B.C. exempt from Mexico’s pause on workers coming to Canada
B.C. will not be affected by Mexico’s decision to hit pause on allowing temporary foreign workers to come to Canada over concerns about their safety during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We were advised the B.C. Government’s efforts to ensure the safety and wellbeing of arriving workers meets the Government of Mexico’s expectations and their arrival will continue this season, without interruption,” B.C.’s agriculture ministry told BC Today in a statement Tuesday.
The pause “refers only to those farms that do not comply with policies pertaining to COVID-19, housing or the wellbeing of workers,” per the ministry.
That’s welcome news to the BC Fruit Growers’ Association (BCFGA), whose members rely heavily on temporary labour, both foreign and domestic, to harvest their crops.
“In B.C., we’re very fortunate and thankful that the province has stepped in to manage and centralize the … 14-day quarantine process [for temporary foreign workers],” Glen Lucas, general manager of the association, told BC Today. “In other provinces, typically that isn’t the case.”
Other provinces have left the logistics of quarantining and monitoring newly arrived temporary foreign workers up to the farms that hired them.
In Ontario, this has led to a “patchwork of regulations, protocols and access to supports,” per a recent report from the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, and resulted in multiple major outbreaks and hundreds of infections.
In contrast, of the more that 2,500 temporary foreign workers who have arrived in B.C. since mid-April, just 21 have tested positive for COVID-19, per the agriculture ministry, and 14 of them are considered fully recovered.
Temporary foreign workers entering B.C. spend two weeks in quarantine in Richmond upon arrival before being allowed to head to farms and other workplaces.
Employers are required to conduct risk assessments of their operations and provide the province with plans to address them. Farms and workplaces are inspected by provincial officials before workers arrive.
Reprieve welcome, but labour issues remain
Even with the province being exempt from Mexico’s pause on temporary foreign workers, the BCFGA is still expecting a shortage of workers this summer.
Lucas said the coronavirus pandemic has made coordinating foreign labour “a giant headache.”
“In Mexico itself, there are problems with workers,” he told BC Today. “They might need documentation, [but] the office is closed because of COVID-19 or the bus isn’t running that gets them to the airport. We’ve had charter planes cancelled because not all workers show up or [they] can’t get their documentation ahead of time.”
The uncertainty extends to workers from the Caribbean, international backpackers and seasonal workers from Quebec, according to Lucas.
The hope is that out-of-work British Columbians will fill some of the gaps. Earlier this month, B.C. launched a website aimed at connecting food producers and processors with job seekers.
Lucas said the association would also like to see the federal government up the income limit for people receiving CERB payments to incentivize more potential workers to take on part-time gigs. So far, Ottawa has “not responded” to that request.