H-N health unit develops plan for migrant workers

Migrant farm workers, many of them from Central and South America, like these men shown picking peas near London, provide the backbone of much of Southwestern Ontario's farm labour. File photo

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The Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit has developed a plan to help the local agricultural community manage new requirements for migrant workers and prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Just as we were ahead of the curve in mandating quarantines for returning travellers, we’re once again leading by example,” Norfolk County Mayor Kristal Chopp, who is also chair of the Haldimand-Norfolk Board of Health, said in a news release.

With the lack of an organized approach from any other level of government, we’re developing our own plan to manage the COVID-19 pandemic, while ensuring local farmers can continue to safely operate their farms and deliver fresh produce to Canadians.”

Those who enter the country under the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program are required to self-isolate for 14 days — the same requirement for any Canadian re-entering the country after international travel.

Each agricultural enterprise must create a plan for self-isolation for newly arrived migrant workers that will be strictly enforced.

In order to expedite the process, Norfolk County is developing a program aimed at helping farmers manage these new requirements, including the possibility of creating isolation facilities similar to those used by the federal government at Canadian Forces Base Trenton, Ont., migrant workers when on-farm space is unavailable. Unlike those in Trenton, however, these facilities will be funded by local farmers.

The plan also includes the organization of a pool of local residents, who would be available to assist farm operations during this busy time, and strict enforcement of self-isolation orders issued by the public health service.

We’ve heard from the public and we’ve heard from the farming community,” said Chopp. “The special exception granted to farmers (to bring migrant workers to Canada during the pandemic) is a controversial one. But if Canadian borders remain closed for a prolonged amount of time, we want to make sure that high-quality, locally-grown food is available to keep Canadians strong and healthy.

We’ll use all of the powers granted to us under the state of emergency to ensure the integrity of the migrant worker program. That means enforcing all legislation, including that covering individuals who want to circumvent the system and jeopardize the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program by using black market farm labour, which will not be tolerated.”

Chopp said Norfolk is Ontario’s leading grower for many kinds of produce.

“We have an obligation to the agricultural community, the rest of our residents, and the people of Ontario and Canada.”

We think that isolating migrant workers for two weeks is a small price to pay to ensure Canadians continue to be fed.”

Chopp said details on the plan soon will be made public.

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