Windsor-Essex region redoubles efforts to get back to business
June 24, 2020 By Greenhouse Canada
Earlier this week, Windsor-Essex businesses, municipal leaders and the community learned that the region would not be moving into Phase two of reopening, the last remaining region to move forward in Ontario.
In the provincial update on June 22, premier Doug Ford said the province began proactive testing on farms over the weekend, sending in mobile testing units to the largest farms with many in the Windsor-Essex region.
“…we are collaborating with federal inspectors and local health officials to begin joint farm inspections. These are in addition to the more than 230 inspections we have already performed on farms,” said Monte McNaughton, Ontario Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development. “These new inspections will review the working and living conditions of temporary foreign workers.” McNaughton also added that the federal government has jurisdiction over the temporary foreign worker programs and are responsible for conducting inspections of the workers’ living quarters.
In response, Ontario’s Greenhouse Vegetable Growers (OGVG) says they are redoubling efforts and resources in controlling COVID-19 infections to get back to business as quickly as possible.
“The well-being of our workers and family farms continues to be our top priority”, stated Paul Mastronardi Kingsville, ON, grower. We have taken many steps over the past three months to control the spread and ensure a safe and healthy on-farm workplace – but there remains more to do. We recognize there continue to be gaps and we are committed to addressing them”.
Dr. Justine Taylor, Science and Government Relations Manager, OGVG, added, “We are working with regional health authorities, provincial health authorities, the Ministry of Labour and the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs along with our municipal partners to enhance testing protocols and ensure fast and effective communication of health and safety information and requirements to our farmers”.
The sector has and will continue to deliver testing for all agri-food employees, promoting a mix of on farm and assessment center protocols to all farm workers. “Many employees have significant fears associated with testing positive and we are committed to collectively address these concerns”, added Peter Quiring, Leamington area greenhouse grower.
Reiterating Premier Ford’s message, farmers, municipalities, governments and health care providers will provide additional assurances to employees immediately. These strong assurances will specify to all employees that they will not be sent home, that they will be paid if they need to isolate and that they will be supported if they fall ill while in Canada.
In addition to promoting increased testing, and in cooperation with regional, municipal and provincial partners the sector is taking all necessary steps to address the underlying issues surrounding on-farm outbreaks, including:
- increased joint on-farm inspections with the federal government under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. OGVG says they rely on the existing compliance and enforcement framework to identify and address bad players. “We need it to work and if it does not, we need to work together to fix it.”
- a ban on employees working at more than one operation.
- support a crackdown on the use unscrupulous recruiters who operate outside of the law. OGVG asks all levels of government to work with the sector to address this complicated issue.
- source and distribute additional PPE for employees to use in their communities. OGVG will also distribute PPE to local businesses to ensure masks and social distancing are the norm at all commercial establishments.
“To our friends and neighbours across the region we recognize and acknowledge your frustrations in the delay in moving to stage two reopening, added Joe Sbrocchi, OGVG General Manager, “our commitment to you is to do whatever it takes to move forward and deliver the results we need to open quickly and safely. We all have a role to play in moving forward and we are committed to do our part in the spirit of community collaboration”.
With files from OGVG
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