Swine Flu Won’t Impact Seasonal Labour Program

“Our guys have better coverage than your average Manitoban.”

– TODD GIFFIN, MAYFAIR FARM

The Influenza A H1N1 outbreak in Mexico shouldn’t unduly affect Mexican seasonal farm workers coming to Canada under a federal agricultural employment program, officials said.

Participants in the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP) are pre-screened before leaving Mexico to make sure they are not sick. The examinations are done 24 hours before departure. Any workers showing flu symptoms are not allowed to board the plane to Canada, according to Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

Pre-screening began after the virus emerged in Mexico and began spreading worldwide. The screening includes a questionnaire and a physical examination performed by Mexican health authorities.

On April 27, 75 workers were examined and four showing signs of respiratory infection were kept behind in Mexico. The infections were unrelated to Influenza A H1N1, a Citizenship and Immigration Canada spokesperson said.

Another 150 workers were examined April 28 prior to their departure to Canada. The process will continue with all subsequent groups of seasonal workers, the spokesperson said.

SAWP workers are already required to be healthy and pass a medical examination before they are allowed to make the trip.

Nearly 21,000 Mexicans came to Canada in 2008 as temporary foreign workers. Of those, 16,777 were seasonal agricultural employees. Ontario, B. C. and Quebec got the bulk of them, receiving 9,746, 2,886 and 2,631 workers respectively. Manitoba hosted 36 workers under the program, most of them as vegetable field labourers.

The ext ra pre-screening measures should be adequate to guard against workers bringing this flu into Canada, said Todd Giffin, president of the Vegetable Growers’ Association of Manitoba.

Giffin, co-owner of Mayfair Farm near Portage la Prairie, already had six workers on his farm April 29, with 10 more scheduled to arrive later in the week.

Workers at Mayfair Farm are organized for collective bargaining by the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 832. It is the first agricultural union of its kind in Canada.

Giffin appeared miffed at a Winnipeg Free Press story last week suggesting Mexican migrant workers could put themselves and others at risk of Influenza A H1N1 because of inadequate medical insurance and fear of seeking medical help.

“Our guys have better coverage than your average Manitoban,” Giffin said. “There’s nobody fearful of going to the doctor that I know on our farm or any other farm.”

The Citizen and Immigration Canada spokesperson said SAWP includes a number of medical-care provisions for workers.

Workers are covered by provincial health insurance. Employers must register them under provincial workers’ compensation or workplace safety insurance plans. The government of Mexico arranges private health coverage until workers are eligible for provincial coverage. It also provides supplemental insurance beyond provincial coverage.

An official with the Springhill Farms hog plant in Neepawa said his company does not have Mexican labourers, although it does employ a few local people of Hispanic descent.

A Maple Leaf Foods spokesperson said the company’s Brandon plant has not hired workers directly from Mexico since 2005. [email protected]

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