Politics

$50M fund looks to help defray costs of quarantine for temporary foreign workers

The federal government has announced $50 million to help farmers and food processors bringing in temporary foreign workers during the COVID-19 crisis.

Farmers, fish processors eligible for $1,500 per employee to cover costs of mandatory 14-day self-isolation

Temporary foreign workers pick sweet peas at Abby Hill Farms in Richmond, Ont. The federal government is helping farmers cover the costs of complying with a 14-day quarantine for foreign workers upon arrival in Canada due to COVID-19. (Reno Patry/CBC)

The federal government announced $50 million on Monday to help farmers and fish processors who are bringing in temporary foreign workers during the COVID-19 crisis.

Under the program, employers are eligible for $1,500 per foreign worker to help cover the costs of complying with a mandatory two-week quarantine upon their arrival in Canada. 

Employers must provide accommodation for the employees during self-isolation and pay the workers during the 14-day period.

Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau said the funds will help employers carry out the "vital" work of feeding the nation while protecting the health and safety of Canadians.

"The men and women who work in our food supply chain are essential to ensuring Canadians have access to a variety of high quality food at a reasonable price. In many regions in the country the production of food, particularly fresh fruits and vegetables, relies on the contribution of experienced temporary foreign workers right from planting season to harvest," she said during a news teleconference Monday.

When the federal government barred all international travellers in response to the pandemic in March, temporary foreign workers were granted an exemption, along with people on work or student visas.

Bibeau said employers and employees who don't comply with the strict self-isolation rules face "severe sanctions," such as fines or jail time.

Temporary foreign workers will not be allowed to board any flight if they are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms. They are instructed to wear a mask during travel and undergo screening upon arrival, and will be carried by private transportation to their destination.

Canadians should have 'first crack' at jobs: Poilievre

Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre said there should be a mechanism so that Canadians who have applied for Canada emergency response benefits (CERB) are notified of jobs in their region, including those normally filled by temporary foreign workers.

"Canadians should have first crack at every single job before it goes to a temporary foreign worker in these extraordinary times," he said Monday during a news conference.

About 60,000 temporary foreign workers come to Canada every year to work in agriculture, food and fish processing.

Some food security exports have warned there could be shortages and higher prices due to the global pandemic, and have said the food supply could be negatively affected if there are fewer temporary foreign workers planting, producing and harvesting crops.

The federal government said it will work with the provinces and territories to determine how the funding will be delivered.

Conservative employment critic Dan Albas pointed to the six million people who have lost jobs to the pandemic and said the government must make sure they're made aware of job opportunities in their area.

"We recognize that there will still be areas where temporary foreign workers and seasonal agricultural workers are required to keep our supply chains moving," he said in a statement.

"The government must ensure that all foreign workers are tested for COVID-19 upon arrival in Canada and that they self-isolate for 14 days. While we appreciate there may be certain circumstances where employers require assistance to facilitate this, the government must not disadvantage Canadians from getting these jobs by using taxpayer dollars to subsidize foreign workers."

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