Province deploying hundreds of inspectors to 'proactively enforce' agri-food sector COVID compliance
WINDSOR, ONT. -- The Ontario government is committing hundreds of inspectors to focus efforts on curbing COVID-19 transmission at farms and greenhouses across the province.
Labour Minister Monte McNaughton and Agriculture Minister Ernie Hardeman made the announcement Wednesday, following a growing season in Windsor-Essex that featured more than 1,000 COVID-19 cases, a handful of hospitalizations and two worker deaths.
“When you’re here with a job to do, whether you were born here or come from overseas, your safety is my business, period,” said McNaughton.
This year, the province is hoping to get ahead of the issue with proactive inspections, indicating the education period is over and inspectors are being directed to enforce COVID-19 protocols through work orders.
“Inspections save lives, plain and simple,” McNaughton said. “We’re enforcing and issuing orders, no excuses. We’re acting on lessons learned.”
In 2020, 12 per cent of temporary foreign workers at Ontario farms and greenhouses caught the virus.
McNaughton told reporters hundreds of inspectors will proactively visit agri-food workplaces — checking for things like physical distancing, PPE use and hand washing. He added the federal government and local health unit will also be inspecting bunkhouses for compliance.
The Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers association welcomes ramped up inspections.
“Allowing COVID to spread amongst them is not what we want for a number of reasons, again, their health and well-being is first and foremost. But also the economic viability of the farms themselves,” said Joseph Sbrocchi, the president of the organization, which represents more than 200 growers across Ontario.
Sbrocchi told CTV Windsor growers were subjected to inspections from at least five different government and health agencies last year, indicating he’d like to know what inspectors will be looking for so his members can prepare accordingly.
“I believe everybody’s trying to do the right things, and let’s all just decide what the right thing is,” he said.
In partnership with the Mexican Consulate, translators will also be on hand during inspections to speak with workers and listen to their concerns.
“We welcome all measures implemented to protect the well-being of migrant workers,” said Santiago Escobar of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union.
Escobar added it’s only one solution to the issues that face migrant workers year after year, not just during a pandemic.
“If the Ford Government really wants to address the issues that agricultural workers are experiencing in Ontario, the solution is to give them the right to be able to join a union,” said Escobar.
Minister Hardeman indicates rapid testing will be deployed on area farms this spring and the province is also urging the feds to get enough vaccines to ensure all workers — including temporary foreign workers — get the shot.
“Everybody has the same interest, to make sure we keep everybody healthy, everybody running to keep the food on kitchen tables,” Hardeman said.