PEI

P.E.I. senators call on Ottawa to incentivize farming jobs during COVID-19

P.E.I. Sen. Diane Griffin is one of several senators calling for the federal government to bring in incentives to address a potential labour shortage in the agriculture industry amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

'Crops will not get harvested and we are going to have an issue with food security,' says Sen. Diane Griffin

P.E.I. Sen. Diane Griffin says it's possible not enough temporary foreign workers and seasonal agricultural workers will be in the country to work on farms because of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Brian McInnis)

P.E.I. Sen. Diane Griffin is one of several senators calling for the federal government to bring in incentives to address a potential labour shortage in the agriculture industry amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

She said it's possible not enough temporary foreign workers and seasonal agricultural workers will be in the country to work on farms or in processing facilities.

Griffin said even those that do make it to Canada will have to self-isolate for two weeks when they arrive and won't be able to work.

"If we don't have enough workers, the crops will not get planted, the crops will not get harvested and we are going to have an issue with food security in our country," she said.

Griffin hopes Ottawa will work with the agriculture industry on incentives to encourage more Canadian workers to work in the industry.

Woman with short brown hair, not smiling.
Griffin says a letter detailing the changes some senators would like to see made was sent out Monday to the federal government. She said she hasn't heard back from the federal government. (Christian Patry/CBC)

"If people are laid off from their regular work, or their regular work which is seasonal has not started yet and may not start, then we would like for them to be able to work on agricultural fields or food processing facilities," she said.

Griffin said those workers should be paid on top of any benefits they are already receiving.

If we don't have enough workers, the crops will not get planted- Sen. Diane Griffin

Several senators, including P.E.I.'s Brian Francis and Mike Duffy, sent a letter to both the minister of agriculture and the minister of employment outlining their concerns and asking for changes.

Griffin said with many students not having a summer job to go back to because of the global pandemic, it may be a good time for them to work in the agriculture sector.

Griffin said the self-isolation period for temporary foreign workers is an extra cost to farmers and she believes they won't want to pay the cost when the people are unable to work on their farms.

She said the senators want the federal government to look at paying some of those accommodation costs.

Griffin also said senators think Ottawa should consider similar provisions for Canadian seafood processing workers.

The letter was sent out Monday. Griffin said she hasn't heard back from the federal government.

Provincial response?

The P.E.I. government announced a new $750,000 fund to help those in the agriculture sector negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic on Thursday at a news briefing.

Minister of Agriculture Bloyce Thompson also said there will be enhancements to the farm student bursary. The amount of money paid to students who work in the industry this year will be increased, he said.

At the same briefing, Transportation, Infrastructure and Energy Minister Steven Myers made it clear temporary foreign workers will be required to quarantine at a "central location" approved by the Chief Public Health Office when they come to the Island for work.

COVID-19: What you need to know

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

Common symptoms include:

  • Fever.
  • Cough.
  • Tiredness.

But more serious symptoms can develop, including difficulty breathing and pneumonia, which can lead to death.

Health Canada has built a self-assessment tool.

What should I do if I feel sick?

Isolate yourself and call 811. Do not visit an emergency room or urgent care centre to get tested. A health professional at 811 will give you advice and instructions.

How can I protect myself?

  • Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Clean regularly touched surfaces regularly.
  • Practise physical distancing.

More detailed information on the outbreak is available on the federal government's website.

More from CBC P.E.I.

With files from Angela Walker

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