In a town that has worked hard to make farm workers feel welcome, there is some concern over the reaction from some businesses to those who are full-time residents, and some who are Canadian citizens.
“We have some farm workers who live here year round, and have become Canadian citizens,” says Erwin Wiens, a grower and town councillor.
“We’re hearing they’re being told by businesses, ‘you’re not supposed to be here.’”
That also applies to some workers who have been here since January.
In both situations, says Wiens, they should be treated like everyone else, regardless of their ethnicity, but in some cases, that’s not happening.
It’s a delicate situation, with everyone expected to follow the same rules, but some who are doing what they are supposed to be doing are being treated differently.
A provincial agricultural association is already sensing there are problems, and is anticipating it could get worse when more seasonal workers arrive.
Last week the federal government announced seasonal agricultural workers would be exempt from travel restrictions put in place to stem the spread of COVID-19. It was expected they would be allowed to travel this week, but at press time Tuesday morning, growers had not heard when to expect their arrival.
Wiens says he doesn’t expect a lot of notice — they will hear that the planes are coming, and the workers will be on their way.
“We better be prepared for when they get here,” he says.
Also by Tuesday, there were no protocols in place for when they arrive. Wiens and other growers are prepared for a 14-day isolation period, but they expect that to mean the workers can be out in the fields and vineyards, although not able to leave the farms.
It will be up to the farmers to ensure their workers have adequate food and other supplies when they arrive, he says.
“It’s great the government recognized our food supply is important, now let’s do the best we can. It’s the same with the Snowbirds. We have to work together to make sure everyone gets what they need.”
Information sent to growers from the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association Monday asked those who have workers already on their farms, or anticipate their arrival, to be “sensitive to how the public views foreign workers in the community during this time,” and urges them to be vigilant in protecting the health of the public and seasonal workers.
“It is imperative that we take measures to ensure all risks to the Canadian public are limited, and all growers take actions to mitigate any negative public perception about the arrival of workers.”
Wiens says for those whose isolation period is over, it means not travelling in groups, or at all if not essential — the same that is expected of everyone.
‘Let’s act as a unit, and everybody do their part. At this point, everybody should be self-isolating as best they can.”
He encourages the use of online shopping, and also sending one person, not several, to do the shopping when necessary.
He is also concerned about growers making provisions for isolating workers who become ill. He has just eight men expected, and has a house that provides each with a separate room. He’s purchased a trailer as a precaution, in case anyone needs to be isolated from the others, and if he doesn’t need the trailer, someone else might, he says. Each grower should have a contingency plan in place in case one of their workers becomes ill.
The OFVA is asking growers to provide computer access for their workers so they can shop online, to arrange for delivery of any necessary medication, to work with banks to provide online banking, and, if they have finished the self-isolation period, to discourage them from going to town and explain the two-metre distance between themselves and anyone else, in stores and any public places.
In an email sent by FARMS last week, an agricultural organization providing resources for farmers, CanAG Travel Services says it is prepared to accommodate air travel. The travel service has been “in constant communication with airlines and source countries.”
Jamaica has contacted workers to be on standby travel notice, as well as making sure they want to come to Canada at this time.
Mexico has indicated it will need four days, since workers in some cases need two or more days to travel to the Mexico City Airport.