Despite some reports, producers in Manitoba are not blocking international workers from getting vaccinated. We value them and the contributions they make to our farms and communities.
It is an understatement to suggest that keeping international workers healthy and safe is critical to the success of Manitoba’s agricultural industry. As a beekeeper, I rely on workers from Nicaragua and the Philippines to manage bees and harvest honey. They are like family, and the experience and skill they bring are irreplaceable. Similarly, producers across sectors rely on international workers as a significant part of their workforce. No matter the commodity, international workers are vital.
I have been troubled to hear reports that some producers are not doing all they can to help international workers get vaccinated for COVID-19. On my farm near Fisher Branch, international workers are quarantined upon arrival and must test negative for COVID-19 three times before proceeding. Then, we bring them to a pop-up clinic to receive their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Some variation of this process is occurring on farms throughout Manitoba.
Doing everything we can to protect these essential workers is the right thing to do. That is the primary reason for taking the steps necessary to ensure access to vaccines. It is also in a producer’s best economic interest. If an employee becomes sick, this can shut down a farm for weeks, resulting in severe financial impacts.
Dr. Joss Reimer, medical lead for Manitoba’s Vaccine Implementation Task Force, has been clear that it has been rare to find incidents where employers were not taking the steps necessary to make vaccines available to employees. Nevertheless, one case is too many. The agriculture industry must ensure that all international workers know that they have a right to get a COVID-19 vaccine and how they can access the distribution process.
Keystone Agricultural Producers is working with the provincial government, providing COVID-19 and vaccine-related information in primary languages like German, Spanish and Tagalog. This will help break down the language barriers that may exist. On-farm pop-up clinics are another way to ensure that every international worker is vaccinated before they return home this fall.
Producers do not take international workers for granted. They are not just employees; in many cases, they are friends and like family. We also understand their importance to the financial viability of every part of Manitoba’s agricultural industry.
Paul Gregory farms near Fisher Branch, Manitoba, and is the District 10 director of the Keystone Agricultural Producers.