COVID-19 raising costs of bringing foreign workers to Okanagan | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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COVID-19 raising costs of bringing foreign workers to Okanagan

February 27, 2021 - 6:00 PM

With commercial flights cancelled between Mexico and Canada, Okanagan fruit growers are having to pay higher charter air fares and take the risk of the workers not being able to fly because of COVID-19.

As with all air travellers, Mexican farm workers have to show they’ve tested negative for COVID-19 within 72 hours of their flights.

“With that, we have seen some challenges,” Veronica Moreno, program manager with the Western Agriculture Labour Initiative, told a recent B.C. Cherry Association meeting.

“What we’ve noticed in the past charter flights is a lot of the workers are testing positive. That is obviously an impediment for workers to travel to Canada. If, unfortunately, that worker doesn’t show up to the airport you will lose that space and that money is non-refundable.”

In an email to iNFOnews.ca, Moreno said about 15 per cent of the workers are not making their flights.

That’s not always because of a negative test. There could be “internal logistics” problems or they may take the wrong kind of test.

About 1,600 workers have arrived in B.C. so far this year, which is about normal for this time of year, she said. But, if 15 per cent of the workers were no shows, that means about 240 extra seats may have been paid for by employers. Some could have been taken by other available workers but she did not have that number.

Not all of those workers are destined for the Okanagan.

In a normal year, about 7,500 foreign workers are employed in the Okanagan. That dropped to about 4,250 last year because of COVID but that was offset by a smaller than usual cherry crop.

READ MORE: Fruit growers facing another rough year if COVID-19 labour issues aren't sorted out

At about $600 a seat from Mexico City (and more from other parts of Mexico), the cost to farmers for no-shows could be more than $140,000 so far this year.

The workers can travel 15 days later, even if they still test positive for COVID.

The $600 cost per flight is about double what it was last year, Moreno said in the email.

On top of the extra cost of travel, growers also have to pay 30 hours per week in wages to the workers who have to quarantine in Richmond for 14 days, even with a negative COVID test. If they have to stay in isolation beyond the quarantine period, the grower has to continue to pay their wages.

The quarantine is required even if the workers test negative when they take another COVID test when they arrive at the Vancouver airport.

They will also be given a test kit at the airport so they can test themselves a second time during the quarantine period.

The provincial government covers the cost of the hotel rooms, meals and “health oversight” for the workers, Moreno said.

Once out of quarantine, it’s up to the growers to transport the workers to their orchards, which have to be inspected by health officials before the workers arrive.

The Western Agriculture Labour Initiative is an organization that “supports B.C. farmers and ranchers by working with governments to develop labour policies that benefit both farmers and workers” and “works with member organizations to find solutions for temporary foreign worker program related issues,” according to its website.


To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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