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COVID protocols for TFW in 2021

COVID protocols for TFW in 2021

Bibeau is still working on arrival protocol, and vaccinations will be up to provinces 

By Jackie Clark
Staff Writer
Farms.com

Federal ag minister Marie-Claude Bibeau’s primary focus at the moment is determining the most effective protocols around the arrival of Temporary Foreign Workers (TFW) for the 2021 growing season.

Her goal is to “bring them here on time and safely. Safely for them, and safely for Canadians as well. This is my number one priority right now,” she told Farms.com.

TFW will be required to get tested for COVID-19 within three days of travelling to Canada, she explained. “I think everybody agrees that this is a good practice, but it’s challenging at the same time.”

The Canadian government is “working with our international partners … the labour departments, for example, in Mexico and Guatemala to see how we can work together and facilitate access to this test,” she added.

Organizing flights for workers is another challenge.

“There are no more commercial flights with the four major companies to Mexico and the Caribbean,” Bibeau explained. Workers who usually use commercial airlines will need to find an alternative, “but the vast majority travel (via) charter organized by FARMS (Foreign Agricultural Resources Management Service) or other organizations.”

Chartered flights “will get exceptions to land in other cities than other the four major airports,” Bibeau said. “We understand that there are special needs for these essential agricultural workers.”

Bibeau and other officials “are working on improving the protocol upon arrival, eventually a test upon arrival, following up closely on the quarantine that they still have to do,” she explained. “This quarantine is supervised by the employers as it was last year.”

Agricultural workers coming from overseas will not be asked to stay in a hotel, she added.

TFW will follow “a separate protocol of arrival, taking into consideration the reality of these essential agricultural workers and the fact that their quarantine is being supervised by the employers and also with the collaboration of major, experienced organizations such as FARMS,” Bibeau explained.

It is still unclear whether TFW will have the opportunity to receive COVID-19 vaccines while working in Canada.

Federally, agriculture and food workers are identified as essential workers, Bibeau said. Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization recommends essential workers receive the vaccine in Stage 2, after the residents and staff at long-term care homes, adults 70 years of age and older, health care workers, and adults in Indigenous communities in Stage 1.

However, “it’s up to each province” to prioritize, Bibeau explained. “It might vary a little from one province to another, but at the federal level (food and agriculture workers) are recognized as essential workers, so they should come amongst the first groups.”

Initial stages of vaccination are underway across Canada for those living in long-term care or working in healthcare. Officials in Alberta and Saskatchewan are still working to identify which groups will be included in the next stage. Manitoba’s plan includes residents of high and moderate risk congregate living facilities in Stage 2, though it is not specified if TFW residents are included in this group. Similarly, British Columbia’s Phase 2 will include “vulnerable populations living and working in select congregated settings,” according to their government’s plan. In Ontario, the government has reported that food processors are included in the list of frontline essential workers that will qualify for Phase 2 of vaccination, however primary production was not specified. Quebec has not listed priority based on employment.

Producers should continue to check with their provincial government announcements to know when their employees may be eligible for vaccination.

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