A coalition of organizations says it’s concerned many temporary foreign workers (TFWs) in Manitoba haven’t been vaccinated against COVID-19 despite their increased risk.
“I don’t know where and how to ask for it,” says a quote attributed to an international farm worker in Manitoba in a news release from Healthcare For All Manitoba.
“My employer has not informed us about the vaccination,” the worker said. “I know I have the right to be vaccinated but the problem is how do I get access?”
Healthcare For All Manitoba is a coalition of worker support organizations like Migrante Manitoba, CUPE Manitoba, Immigration Partnership Winnipeg and others.
International farm workers, often in Manitoba through the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP), often live in group situations, which can make them more vulnerable to virus transmission, the group said in the June 14 news release. Workers may rely on employers for transportation.
Migrante Manitoba organizer Diwa Marcelino told the Co-operator the workers often don’t speak English well.
Joss Reimer, the province’s medical lead on the vaccine rollout, took time to address these concerns in a June 16 news conference. She spoke directly to foreign workers in both English and Spanish.
“It is your choice to get vaccinated,” Reimer said. “We have heard that some employers are not supportive of their workers getting vaccinated so I want this to be very clear, that you don’t need the permission or the support of your boss to get the vaccine.”
Workers don’t need a Manitoba health card to get a vaccine and won’t be turned away if they don’t have ID with them. When booking by phone and at vaccination sites they can get interpretation. Walk-in vaccine appointments are also available.
Reimer said the province is not hearing common reports of employers discouraging workers from getting vaccinated and called the circumstance “rare.”
Manitoba Beekeepers Association said it has communicated to all its TFW employers about getting workers vaccinated. In an emailed statement, association chair Ian Steppler said a provincial staff member has provided their members with “quite a lot” of information on COVID-related issues.
“I don’t believe that employers would not convey information to workers,” Steppler said. “It’s in the best interest for employers to have healthy workers and this can literally shut down an operation for two weeks.”
“Keeping those foreign workers healthy and able to continue to support the business is critical and essential,” said Keystone Agricultural Producers general manager Brenna Mahoney.
“Growers are taking steps to be able to do that because they know the impact on their farm,” she said.
KAP has advocated to the province to ensure rural communities and TFW employers have access to vaccines, Mahoney said. They also encourage all Manitobans to be vaccinated.
“Farmers are taking this seriously and if there are challenges, if there are gaps, then we need to address them,” she said.
Regional Health Authorities have reached out to employers, including those who hire TFWs, to facilitate vaccinations, Reimer said. This has included group bookings at vaccine supersites and bringing vaccines to work sites, she said.
Reimer said this summer the province will be expanding community clinics, mobile clinics, pop-up sites and other methods to reduce barriers for people who want to be vaccinated.
Marcelino said on-site vaccinations at workplaces would be ideal. It may be difficult for workers to find time to sit on the phone or website, he said.
Some workers were hesitant to get vaccinated early on, Marcelino said, but mostly they don’t want to lose work time. Most adhere to COVID safety guidelines “to the highest degree,” he said.