Farmers fear losing migrant workers
May 1, 2009 By The Canadian Press
April 29, 2009, Holland Landing, Ont. – Farming organizations say
farmers are more concerned about potential labour shortages brought on
by a worldwide pandemic than being infected with swine flu by Mexican
April 29, 2009, Holland Landing, Ont. – Farming organizations say farmers are more concerned about potential labour shortages brought on by a worldwide pandemic than being infected with swine flu by Mexican workers.
Ontario Federation of Agriculture president Bette Jean Crews says the industry has full confidence in the screening procedures that as many as 20,000 Mexican migrant workers will face before entering
The government announced recently that it has beefed up its screening process and all Mexican workers will need to have a fever-check by two doctors, fill out a questionnaire, and undergo a physical before entering the country.
Crews says she’s not hearing much concern from farmers about hiring Mexican workers because of the potential dangers of swine flu.
She says most people realize that a neighbour who just returned home from a Mexican trip is just as likely to import the flu into Canada.
While the government is preparing for an influx of workers that will soon come to Canada, many have already been in the country for some time.
Crews runs an apple farm near Trenton, Ont., and has two Mexican workers already tending to her crops.
“We have two men that arrived a week or so ago and we’re watching them and so far no one’s sneezing,” she said.
“I do know the foreign workers undergo rigorous medical tests to make sure they are healthy and they’re not bringing in any communicable diseases and I’ve got a lot of faith in the medical screenings.”
One of her employees is from a rural part of Mexico and “he’s probably less likely to bring something in than the neighbour who’s back from holidays,” she said.
If farmers do worry about anything, it’s about how their workers are coping with concerns for their families back home, said Jamie Reaume, executive director of the Holland Marsh Growers’ Association, which represents farmers in an area north of Toronto.
“Our concern has been with their families in Mexico and the fallout from not just the flu, but also from the earthquake, so we’ve had a lot of our guys who have Mexican workers and they’re actually getting them in contact with their families to see if everything’s fine,” he said.
In many cases, the workers have been returning to the same farms for decades so they often share a family-like bond with farmers, Reaume added.
“The reality is, many of the guys who have workers here, their first concern isn’t about, ‘Oh gee, did they bring something up,’ their first concern is, ‘Oh gee, what are their families doing?’”
Ken Forth of the Foreign Agricultural Resource Management Services, which facilitates and co-ordinates the processing of requests to work in Canada, said the media is far more preoccupied with swine flu than farmers are.
He’s said for every one phone call from a concerned farmer there are at least a dozen media calls.
“The media is the pandemic,” he said.
“I know the Canadian government has done a great job of monitoring this and they monitor this on a minute by minute basis,” he said, and added that farmers are more concerned about losing their workers rather than being sickened by them.
“There’s no doubt about it, these workers need to be here when the time for them to be here is on, and it would be very much a disaster to any farmer who did not have his workers on time.”
He said Ontario averages about 15,000 foreign seasonal workers a year – of which about 8,500 are Mexican and the rest are from Caribbean countries – and they will trickle, not flood, into the country depending on what they’re hired to do.
“This is a very diverse industry producing more than 150 different crops in horticulture, they all have different time periods, they all have different needs,” Forth said.
“A pure apple grower will bring in workers in for six weeks, a greenhouse grower may bring people in for six or eight months … There’s no mass entrance or exit like there used to be, it’s all over the whole season long, it’s 11 and a half months.”
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