Inspectors will be checking for COVID-19 protocol and legislation compliance, focusing on workplaces that employ temporary foreign workers
By Jackie Clark
The government of Ontario is increasing inspections of agri-food workplaces, with a focus on those that employ temporary foreign workers (TFW), Monte McNaughton, minister of labour, training and skills development, announced in a Jan. 27 press conference. 200 inspectors trained in biosecurity protocols will visit workplaces to check that COVID-19 prevention protocols are in place and enforced, as well as monitoring compliance with Reopening Ontario (A Flexible Approach to COVID-19) Act, 2020, and the Occupational Health and Safety Act.
“The safety of every worker in Ontario is my top priority – notice I did not just say ‘from’ Ontario. When you’re here with a job to do, whether you were born here, or come from overseas, your safety is my business, period,” McNaughton said. “Last year, more than 12 per cent of these workers caught COVID-19. More than 20 had to go to hospital.”
Bonifacio Eugenio Romero, Rogelio Muñoz Santos, and Juan Lopez Chaparro, three farm workers from Mexico, died from COVID-19 in Ontario last year.
“These are tragedies that we must work harder to end,” McNaughton said. “inspections save lives, plain and simple. So, today I’m pleased to announce that we have ramped up inspections on farms with a focus on TFW safety.”
Inspectors are “starting early, visiting farms before the growing season even starts and before most TFWs have arrived,” he explained. “Our inspectors are looking for protocols like hand-washing, physical distancing between workers and the use of personal protective equipment where necessary.”
The Ontario government has accepted an offer from the Mexican consulate to provide translation assistance for Spanish-speaking workers, he added.
At the beginning of the pandemic “we knew farmers needed extra guidance on how to protect workers, so our visits focused on education, this year we’re enforcing and issuing orders, no excuses,” he said. “We won’t hesitate to shut down any workplaces that are unsafe.”
Ernie Hardeman, Ontario minister of agriculture, food and rural affairs, also spoke at the Jan. 27 announcement.
“As we look ahead to this growing season we’re building on the knowledge and experience gained in 2020 to prepare for 2021,” he said. “Stepping up our agri-food workplace inspection is part of the province’s continued efforts to raise awareness, to leave nothing to chance, to protect workers’ health and safety and maintain our strong food supply.”
Ontario labour laws apply to all workers in Ontario, including job protection for time missed due to COVID-19, which the provincial government introduced at the beginning of the pandemic, McNaughton explained. A federal fund exists for workers to access ten paid sick days, and work continues to improve this program to make it easier to access and deliver payments to workers faster.
“To date we’ve done 1000 farm inspections. The good news is 98 per cent of farms reported no illnesses after our inspections,” he said. The agri-food industry will continue to have access to rigorous testing regimes, although it is uncertain whether the COVID-19 vaccine will be offered to TFW.
“I would urge the federal government to work as hard as possible to ensure that we get enough vaccines for all of the people and all of the workers here in Ontario,” McNaughton said.