Feds commit more money to foreign workers

The federal government is announcing $58.6 million in new money to support temporary foreign workers in Canada’s agricultural sector.

Spending is expected to focus on the health and safety of temporary foreign workers in Canada.

Farmers will be eligible to access $35 million being administrated through Agriculture Canada. Details of a new program are still being put together, but the money will be aimed at improving living quarters for temporary foreign workers.

It’s expected it will help alleviate adverse effects of the COVID-19 virus.

The money can be used for temporary, emergency or off-farm housing, personal protective equipment and the purchase of sanitary stations.

The program will be cost-shared 50-50 between government and producers. There will likely be a maximum amount each producer is eligible for, but a specific amount is still being determined.

It’s believed the program will also be retroactive but it is not clear what that date will be. Greenhouses, which employ a large swath of migrant workers, are also eligible to apply for the funding.

Migrant support organizations will be given $6 million as part of $7.4 million in funds to further care for the workers.

To strengthen inspections of employers on farms, the federal government is also spending $16.2 million. That money will be used to hire new inspectors and ensure all allegations against employers are addressed.

“We look at the tragedies that have hit the temporary foreign worker communities with deep sorrow,” said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during a July 31 news conference. “This is something that is on Canadians. We require support from people around the world to grow our food, to harvest our food, to get food on Canadians’ plates.”

“We’ve seen that there are multiple levels that in some cases we have let those communities down, whether it’s the farms that haven’t been living up to the standards and expectations that we expect, or provincial governments or federal governments that haven’t been properly involved in ensuring that standards are met and people are protected, there are changes we need to make and we need to continue working to support these people and communities as they support us with good food on our tables.”

Producers will be unlikely to hire enough domestic labour to make up for the shortfall of temporary foreign workers (TFWs) arriving to work in Canada this year, according to a recent University of Calgary report.

About 40 percent of foreign workers in Canada are located in Ontario. Quebec is hosting 32 percent of workers, while British Columbia has 18 percent.

According to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, slightly less than 46,000 agriculture workers had arrived in Canada for the 2020 season by July 12, compared to the roughly 51,00 projected to arrive before COVID-19 for the first four months of 2020.

Each year, 50,000 to 60,000 foreign agricultural and food production workers come to work in Canada, with 2019 marking a high-water mark for the number of workers.

According to the federal government, more than 6,000 people are ready to travel to Canada but are unable.

Throughout the pandemic, there has been a heightened focus on the conditions of TFWs in Canada, in part due to outbreaks and COVID-19 related deaths among the workers.

During a June 26 meeting of the standing committee on social affairs, science and technology, federal Minister of Health Patty Hajdu was critical of how migrant workers are treated on farms in Canada, particularly during the COVID-19 crisis.

“The issue of migrant workers and infection I would say is far vaster than (personal protection equipment) PPE. I mean, all the PPE in the world will not protect you if you’re sleeping in a bunkhouse that is housing 12 to 15 people that may not have any ability for distancing, certainly no private washrooms or kitchens.”

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