(Saskatoon) — The National Farmers Union is pleased to see the federal government’s rapid response to the economic disruption that stems from putting urgent public health measures in place to slow the spread of pandemic COVID-19. New support programs are being rolled out to help vulnerable people during this crisis. However we are concerned that some of our most economically vulnerable people – farmers and migrant farm workers who produce labour-intensive food crops – are being left behind. Our economic security depends on maintaining our farms’ capacity to plant and grow food for Canadians, and migrant farm workers and their families depend on the wages earned in Canada every year.
On March 17, the Canadian border closed to all non-citizens and non-residents other than US citizens – including foreign farm workers. On March 18, reports circulated that borders might be opened to foreign agricultural workers, however it is not clear whether this includes workers from countries other than the USA. The NFU calls on the government to support the return of foreign workers involved in the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program or the Agricultural Stream, regardless of country of origin.
Seasonal workers are essential to Canada’s food and agriculture system, and must be allowed to enter the country. Proper precautions and isolation procedures can, and must, be implemented to protect their own and others’ health. We urge the federal government to work with the agriculture sector to develop a solution for a quick resumption of entries by participants in the Temporary Foreign Worker Program for Primary Agriculture.
On March 18 Canada stopped all non-essential travel between the USA and Canada. It is conceivable that the COVID-19 pandemic or other unforeseen events could eventually cause disruption to fresh food imports coming across the border. To maintain Canada’s food security, we need to ensure that Canadian farms that rely on seasonal workers from Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean and other countries can continue producing.
The NFU also urges the government to ensure migrant workers and the organizations that support them are included in the planning and implementation of a positive response to this urgent problem. Their needs must be met in culturally-appropriate ways to ensure they and their families are supported in these extraordinary times. The NFU stands in solidarity with migrant farm workers, their rights and the rights of peasant farmers around the world. As such, we note that a safe and just system for the employment of migrant farm workers is possible and needs to be part of our rapid and compassionate response to those affected by the pandemic.
The National Farmers Union, along with other agricultural organizations, is eager to work with the government to ensure the safe arrival and stay of foreign farm labourers. Without them, the 2020 growing season is in peril. They are needed and valued on our farms. We urge a swift response that will allow migrant farm workers come to Canada under conditions that will allow them to work with Canadian farmers to produce this year’s harvest.
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For more information:
Jennifer Pfenning, NFU Region 3 (Ontario) member, Chair of NFU Migrant Workers Working Group, firstname.lastname@example.org; 519-502-2582
Ayla Fenton, NFU Region 3 (Ontario) Board member: 613-539-3341