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Applications open for funding to improve on-farm working conditions

October 5, 2020  By Stephanie Gordon

Applications are now being accepted for the Emergency On-Farm Support Fund in certain provinces and territories. This fund provides a $35 million investment to improve health and safety on farms and in employee living quarters to prevent and respond to the spread of COVID-19.

The $35 million is part of a $58.6 million investment the Canadian federal government made into the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) in late July amid COVID-19 outbreaks on farms. The fund was announced along with increased supports to temporary foreign workers, strengthened employer inspections regime, and the development of improved employer-provided living accommodation requirements.

The Emergency On-Farm Support Fund will provide support to farmers for direct infrastructure improvements to living quarters and work stations, temporary or emergency housing (on or off-farm), as well as personal protective equipment (PPE), sanitary stations, work stations and any other health and safety measures to safeguard the health and safety of Canadian and temporary foreign workers from COVID-19.

“Protecting the health and well-being of all farm workers who are helping ensure the food security for Canadians has been a top priority since the beginning of the pandemic,” said Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Marie-Claude Bibeau. “This is why we will continue to provide farmers with the support they need to ensure the right measures are in place to safeguard their employees and limit the spread of the virus. Additional support will also be provided to women and youth as the government is keenly aware that these groups have been uniquely affected by COVID-19.”

“Immigration is a critical driver of our economy, but more than ever Canadians know how much we rely on migrant workers for our food security as well, and we have a duty to keep them safe,” added Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Marco Mendicino. “The support they have provided to Canada’s farmers and food processors has helped keep food on all of our tables, and has helped us weather the significant challenges brought on by the pandemic.”

Open for select provinces for now

The Fund will be delivered by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) in Alberta, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut.

In the other provinces, work continues with provincial governments to finalize the delivery arrangements with announcements expected through the coming weeks. In an online press conference on October 5, Minister Bibeau explained that some provinces already have programs in place through the federal-provincial fund, the Canadian Agricultural Partnership (referred to as CAP or The Partnership). The funding will be merged with existing programs and discussions are ongoing.

It will be important to see how support is rolled out in the other provinces because according to a 2020 update from Statistics Canada, most foreign workers who work on farms are located in Ontario (40 per cent), Quebec (32 per cent), B.C. (18 per cent) and Nova Scotia (2.6 per cent). These key provinces were missing from today’s announcement.

Earlier in the season, several Ontario farms experienced COVID-19 outbreaks with hundreds of workers testing positive. The outbreaks resulted in the death of three farm workers. In response, the Ontario provincial government allocated $15 million to expand the Agri-food Workplace Protection Program. The Agri-food Workplace Protection Program provides financial support to purchases of PPE, temporary housing for ill workers, building physical barriers for worker separation, enhanced hand washing facilities and a tent rental to expand lunch room space.

Details of the funding

For the Emergency On-Farm Support Fund rolled out on October 5, eligible recipients are primary Canadian agricultural producers (e.g., farm, ranch or other operations) that produce agricultural products for resale and employ farm workers, either domestic and/or Temporary Foreign Workers.

They can include: sole proprietors, partnerships, corporations/cooperatives/communal organizations, trusts, band farms.

For the provinces where AAFC is administering the program, the applications will be reviewed as they are received and will put priority on the highest risk farms for COVID-19 outbreaks. High risk farms will be identified based on available working space, housing conditions, and number of workers employed. Priority will be given to those projects that are mitigating the most risk, specifically where there are active outbreaks or there are a large number of workers concentrated within the farm facilities.

Contributions under the AAFC-managed program will be cost-shared 50:50 with the applicants up to $100,000. An additional 10 per cent will be provided to women and youth applicants making the split 60:40 as the government is taking steps to promote and empower women and youth in the agricultural sector.

Minister Bibeau said the government aims to deliver the funding within 30 days of the application date, and the costs are retroactive to Mar. 15, 2020 and must be completed by Feb. 26, 2021.

Long-term reform

Worker rights groups such as The Migrant Workers Alliance for Change (MWAC) and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union have been pushing for more deep rooted changes to the TFW program, such as permanent resident status on arrival for workers. A MWAC report released in June also called for a national housing standard, increased wages, and income supports for workers impacted by COVID-19 outbreaks at their workplaces.

Fruit and Vegetable brought up these calls for action to Minister Bibeau during the online press conference. Minister Bibeau responded saying that the conversation for TFW program reform is ongoing with Ministers Qualtrough and Mendicino. Carla Qualtrough is the federal minister of employment and Marco Mendicino is the federal minister of immigration.

Minister Bibeau also highlighted the federal Agri-Food Pilot program which provides a pathway for permanent residence for experienced, non-seasonal workers in specific agricultural industries and occupations, including greenhouse. The three-year pilot, taking place from May 2020 to 2023, will test an industry-specific approach to help employers in the greenhouse and mushroom production, meat processing, and livestock-raising industries. Bibeau said the results of the program will help inform the government’s future approaches.

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