Growers were assured more than a week ago that seasonal workers would be allowed into the country.
On Tuesday, they were still anxiously waiting to hear when the workers from the Caribbean and Mexico will arrive. Farmers were also waiting for some clarification about the protocol when that happens.
They were hoping the workers would be allowed to “hit the ground running,” says grower and town councillor Erwin Wiens. They are accustomed to taking a day to get settled, and then heading out to the orchards and vineyards the next day.
Instead, farmers have heard there may be a 14-day isolation period, with the workers having to stay on their farms, but not allowed to go out to work.
There is a possibility that could allow them to begin the important job of pruning fruit trees and vines during the isolation period. The federal government announcement about the arrival of the workers, dated March 27, says “the employer cannot authorize the worker to work during the self-isolation period, even if requested by the worker, with the exception of those deemed as providing an essential service by the Chief Public Health Officer.”
Wiens says news of the isolation was not really a surprise — he’d heard talk that they wouldn’t be allowed into the field, “but I was hoping that was not the case.”
They are in closer quarters when they’re not working — they would always be apart from each other and away from anyone else in the field, he says.
“I am hoping they are considered essential, and thus allowed to work,” says Wiens. But that being said, “I am thankful we are closer to them coming.”
During a virtual, call-in council meeting Monday, Lord Mayor Betty Disero made a passionate statement about the current state of emergency. One of the issues she addressed was the “unnecessary angst” residents are feeling because of seasonal workers. Those in town now have finished their 14-day isolation. Some of them have been here since January, she says.. The protocol hasn’t yet been finalized for new arrivals, but farmers “have the best interest of the community, their families and the workers at heart.”
In addition to not allowing the seasonal workers out in the field, the government announcement says they can’t be asked to perform other duties, such as building repairs, but they must be paid a minimum of 30 hours a week.
Farmers are also responsible for regularly monitoring the health of workers during their isolation period, as well as any worker who becomes sick after that period. It suggests farmers communicate with the workers daily, to ask if they are experiencing any symptoms, and keep a record of their responses.
If a worker develops symptoms, farmers must isolate them from other workers and contact the local public health officials, and the appropriate consulate.
Farmers are also expected to provide information on COVID-19 in a language the workers understand.
Farmers must ensure all seasonal workers have the tools to practise good hygiene, “including information that outlines best practices for workers in maintaining bathroom and other washing facilities. It is suggested that such information be posted in bathrooms, kitchens and common areas.”
Also, during the self-isolation period, farmers must ensure the accommodations do not prevent the worker from avoiding contact with older adults and those with medical conditions who are at risk of developing serious illness.
Farmers must isolate arriving workers in accommodations that are separate from those not self-isolating, including finding alternate accommodations, such as a hotel, if necessary.
Wiens, who has purchased a trailer in addition to the house he has for his workers, each with their own bedroom, says local farmers are looking at all possibilities for other accommodations, including hotels. “The safety of the workers and the town is paramount,” he says.