Federal government to backstop TFW isolation with funding

Employers backed to provide mandatory two-week isolation

Farming and agrifood employers bringing temporary foreign workers (TFWs) to Canada will get per-worker support to make sure those employees can self-isolate for 14 days on arrival.

Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau on Monday announced up to $50 million for such employers to put such measures in place.

As part of its response to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, the government on March 25 announced an emergency order under the Quarantine Act requiring anyone still able to enter Canada by land, air or sea to self-isolate for 14 days, regardless of whether they show symptoms of COVID-19.

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That self-isolation order applies to TFWs and anyone else who’s still allowed to enter Canada following the March 21 ban on all non-essential entry, and exempts only certain workers such as truckers, medical personnel and firefighters.

The funding announced Monday provides support of $1,500 for each TFW “to employers or those working with them” to make sure the isolation requirements “are fully met.”

The support would go to help pay the workers who are unable to work during the isolation period, and to provide for suitable accommodation and food during that time.

The funding will be in the form of lump-sum payments to employers, Bibeau said, retroactive to the date of the Quarantine Act order and available as long as that order is in force. It wouldn’t be available to employers who already had TFWs on site before that date.

On a call with reporters Monday, Bibeau said the government still has to find “the best mechanism” for delivering the funding, whether through the provinces or regional farm organizations, or by using federal immigration information.

It’s expected to take “a matter of days” for the delivery mechanism to be put in place and a “matter of weeks” for payments to be delivered after that, she said.

The support is available for “all food production firms that rely on (TFWs) including primary agriculture and food processing, as well as fisheries and aquaculture,” the government said.

Eligible employers must not have been found to have violated the mandatory 14-day isolation protocols “or any other public health order.” Any employer found violating the rules will face “severe sanctions and fines,” Bibeau said.

“Today’s announcement will help to protect the health of Canadians, while ensuring a steady labour supply to support our economy and ensure our food security during these extraordinary times,” Employment and Workforce Development Minister Carla Qualtrough said in a release Monday.

About 50,000 to 60,000 TFWs come to Canada each year for work in the agricultural, food and fish processing sectors, accounting for over 60 per cent of all TFWs entering Canada.

Bibeau said the $50 million budget, which would support such measures for about 33,000 TFWs, is based on the number of TFWs arriving into the spring and summer and could be increased if need be.

The federal opposition Bloc Quebecois, in a separate statement Monday, criticized the new measures as insufficient.

Public health is the purview of the government, not of producers, Bloc ag critic Yves Perron said, calling it “unfair and irresponsible to inflict such a burden on them, even with a last-minute financial contribution, under the threat of heavy fines above all that.”

While emphasizing TFWs are welcome and “absolutely” needed in Quebec, the Bloc, in its statement, said the workers aren’t subject to quarantine or COVID-19 testing before they leave their countries of origin, nor are they tested on arrival — yet untrained producers have the responsibility for isolating those workers, with no advance federal inspection of the places where they’ll be isolated. — Glacier FarmMedia Network

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