The Canadian government will provide cost-share funding for additional worker protection
By Jackie Clark
As farm workers across the country are occupied with harvest, Marie-Claude Bibeau, federal minister of agriculture and agri-food, expressed her appreciation for the industry’s resilience throughout the pandemic and for the dedication of farmers.
“On many farms, migrant workers have done an invaluable service to feed Canadians, too,” she said in the Oct. 5 press conference. “The Canadian and migrant workers that produce, harvest, and process our food deserve the government’s full support and protection.”
The federal government is unrolling additional emergency support to help protect both Canadian and migrant farm workers, as the industry and the country continue their fight against COVID-19.
“Applications are now open for the new Emergency On-Farm Support Fund for Saskatchewan, Alberta, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, the Yukon and the Northwest Territories,” Bibeau explained. “Through the coming weeks we will announce the programs that are being administered independently by the other provinces, which in some cases, will integrate with existing initiatives for efficiency purposes.”
$35 million is dedicated to this effort, from emergency funding initially announced in July.
“The new Emergency On-Farm Support Fund will contribute to infrastructure improvements to work stations, living quarters, temporary and emergency housing, both on and off the farm. Funding will also support personal protective equipment, sanitary stations and any other health and safety measures. It will also help to cover farmers’ extra costs in cases of any COVID-19 outbreaks,” Bibeau added.
Projects will be cost-shared 50/50 between the producer and the government, however, the government will pitch in 60 per cent of the funding when the majority owner/operator of the farm is a woman or youth. It is unclear whether other marginalized groups will be able to take advantage of this additional cost-sharing support.
“In the agricultural sector, the biggest diversity challenge we see is with women and youth, but there are certainly Indigenous and Black communities that could also be included,” Bibeau told Farms.com during the press conference.
Producers can apply for funding to help both Canadian and migrant workers, however, the government will prioritize highest risk. Officials will determine risk by evaluating “the working space, working environment, housing conditions, as well as the number of employees,” Bibeau said.
“Our objective is to deliver (funding to producers) within 30 days after the application has been submitted. … It’s retroactive from March 15 and will go until the end of February,” she added.
Regarding longer-term support for migrant workers and reform of temporary foreign worker programs, “we are strengthening employers’ inspection regimes and developing employer-provided living accommodation requirements for migrant workers,” Bibeau said. “Conversations are ongoing” about solutions for migrant worker issues, including paths to residency.
“We care deeply about the well-being of migrant workers and it is vitally important that each one works and lives in an environment that is safe and preserves their dignity,” Bibeau said.
Protecting all farm workers is a priority, because producers are “key partners in Canada’s sustainable economic recovery” from the COVID-19 crisis, she added.