Fruit and vegetable sector stands with Ontario’s plan to protect agri-food employees

GUELPH – Ontario’s fruit and vegetable growers (OFVGA) say in a June 29 announcement the Ontario government will further support ongoing and expanded on-site testing, access to employment benefits and supports, and new public health guidance to assist the sector as it works to address ongoing challenges with COVID-19 outbreaks on farms.

“Growers are committed to protecting the health and safety of agricultural workers. Yesterday’s announcement by the province aligns with the five-point plan released by the fruit and vegetable sector last week,” said OFVGA chair Bill George. “As we learn more about how these outbreaks occurred, the sector is working to prevent these circumstances from happening in other regions of the province.”

Three migrant workers have died in Ontario due to the virus and all known infections among migrant farm workers were acquired in the province after completing a 14-day quarantine upon entry.

“After extensive testing this weekend of temporary workers in Southwestern Ontario, the province is reporting 177 new cases of COVID-19 in Windsor-Essex, with another 80 new cases across the rest of the province. There were over 27,000 tests processed yesterday,” Health Minister Christine Elliott said June 29.

Based on investigations undertaken by government and health officials, a significant risk factor for a COVID-19 outbreak amongst a farm workforce is the coming of employees that live on the farm, with contract work crews that live off-site and work on multiple farms. To address this risk factor and pro-actively identify positive cases of COVID-19, the OFVGA is calling for the use of stricter approaches in high priority regions to:

– undertake proactive testing of all agri-food employees through expanded deployment on-site testing resources;

– limit all employees to working on one farm operation at a time during the pandemic;

– deploy resources to enforce compliance with local health unit orders to restrict movement of contract workers from farm to farm.

“During these challenging times it is even more imperative that growers do everything they can to protect their employees,” George said. “I am calling on growers to take the risk of an outbreak on their farm extremely seriously and take every step possible to protect your employees. We must work together to protect our essential agricultural workers.”

The association says growers are working closely with public health officials on preventing and managing outbreaks, including taking direction in how the new public health guidance announced yesterday is applied.

“Growers respect the rights and wishes and workers. Even if public health direction allows for asymptomatic COVID-19 positive employees to work, those individuals always have the choice to self-isolate if they are not comfortable working,” the release states.