Windsor

WECHU calls for federal control of quarantine for migrant workers upon arrival in Ontario

In Ontario it is left up to the farms they are going to work at. But there are calls for Ottawa to oversee the quarantine.

Farms are responsible to find accommodations for newly arriving workers to quarantine

The Windsor-Essex County Health Unit requested a government run program for newly arrived workers in Canada to complete their 14-day quarantine period. (CBC)

The Windsor- Essex Public Health unit has asked the federal government to take responsibility for managing and overseeing the 14-day quarantine period for migrant farm workers arriving in to work in Ontario.

Right now, managing that quarantine falls to the local farms employing the workers.

In a letter sent to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Dec.10, WECHU requested that the federal government "manage and supervise a mandatory 14-day isolation period for migrant farm workers upon entering Canada."

The letter said it was backing the idea first put forward in September by Dr. Shanker Nesathurai, Medical Officer of Health in Simcoe.

"I think it's really important that we can alleviate some of that burden and ensure that there is a centralized process for all the temporary workers to quarantine, that would be the best thing," Windsor-Essex medical health officer Dr. Wajid Ahmed said at the health unit's briefing on Tuesday. 

Dr. Wajid Ahmed backed a call from Simcoe's medical health officer for a government run quarantine program for newly arrived migrant workers. (Amy Dodge/CBC)

"As opposed to expecting the employers to arrange these quarantine which some employers do well and others don't do so well."

At the same briefing, Ahmed confirmed that one migrant worker that had arrived since the beginning of January had tested positive while in quarantine. 

The letter also noted the benefit the region got from the federal funding for to enable workers who have tested positive or have been deemed high risks to isolate.

"We truly believe it had a positive impact on the health of the workers, as well as the community," the letter read. 

I think it could have worked out fantastically but it somehow just never got traction.​​​​​​- Joe Sbrocchi

"Along the same note, we urge you to consider the implementation of a program for Federal Government Supervision of the Self-Isolation Period for Arriving Migrant Farm Workers before the 2021 growing season."

Right now, in Ontario, the responsibility for finding appropriate accommodations for newly arriving workers needing to quarantine falls to the farms they are working for.

The federal government also gives farms $1,500 for each temporary foreign worker to help them deal with "some of the incremental costs associated with the 14-day isolation period imposed under the Quarantine Act." 

On the same page

The health unit isn't the only one to support the idea and many point to the province of British Columbia where the provincial government manages the quarantine program for migrant workers, and provides workers with both food and accommodation during the required 14-days.

While worker advocacy groups and greenhouse growers do not see eye to eye on much, the idea of a government controlled program appeals to both.

Joe Sbrocchi of the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers said that his organization took note of the B.C. program for arriving workers, in which the provincial government provides food and hotel rooms for arriving workers to meet their 14 day quarantining, and felt that it would be a good model to copy. 

Joe Sprocchi of the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers says his organization was one of the proponents of the idea of a government run quarantine program. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

"We're all for it, in fact, when that idea was floated, we were some of the early proponents of it. If not maybe the proponent of it. It makes a lot of sense, the question is whether you have facilities large enough to do that," Sbrocchi said, adding that they had also suggested having workers arrive in Windsor by charter flight to Windsor and put up in Caesar's hotel. 

"I think it could have worked out fantastically but it somehow just never got traction." 

Chris Ramsaroop of Justice for Migrant Workers believes that the provincial and federal governments should be held jointly responsible for the quarantine period.

Chris Ramsaroop of the Justice for Migrant Workers group wants government to run the quarantine program but is also calling for more transparency when it comes to how employers are spending the money they are currently getting to quarantine workers. (Jason Viau/CBC)

"And the costs should be uploaded where both governments are paying for the quarantine period... "he said.

"There's simply no transparency or accountability for the money that's being given to farmers at this moment."   

Santiago Escobar of the United Food and Commercial Workers union agreed that provincial and federal control of the quarantining process would be preferable but said it's what happens next that's worrisome. 

A spokesperson in the office of Carla Qualtrough, federal minister of employment, workforce development and disability inclusion, said that the government will look at all options to protect the health and safety of temporary foreign workers but did not address the idea of a government run quarantine program in Ontario. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

 "When this worker passes the 14 days, they are passed to bunk houses... it's a matter of just one worker contracting the virus, this is what really have happened here in Windsor and Essex County." 

Minister's response

A spokesperson for Minister Carla Qualtrough, federal minister of employment, workforce development and disability inclusion told the CBC that the government will "continue to look at all options to protect the health and safety of temporary foreign workers, employers and communities" but did not address the idea of a government controlled quarantining program in Ontario. 

National representative for the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Santiago Escobar says he supports the idea of a government run program but worries about next steps for workers. (Jason Viau/CBC)

CBC also asked the office of the provincial minister of agriculture Ernie Hardeman if it had explored the idea of having a system like BC but did not receive a response by end of day Wednesday. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jacob Barker

Videojournalist

Jacob Barker is a videojournalist for CBC Windsor.

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