Farm workers from Mexico, Quebec begin arriving in Okanagan - InfoNews

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Farm workers from Mexico, Quebec begin arriving in Okanagan

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April 30, 2020 - 6:30 PM

Some temporary foreign workers from Mexico have finished their quarantine period in Vancouver and are heading to the Okanagan at the same time Quebecois workers wait to get into their campground near Oliver.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced at her daily update Wednesday, April 29, about 900 foreign workers have arrived in Vancouver over the last few weeks. They’re being flown in on charter flights and are required to be quarantined in hotels for 14 days because of COVID-19.

Four people from four different flights tested positive for COVID-19, went into isolation and were treated, she said.

Glen Lucas, general manager of the B.C. Fruit Growers’ Association, said some of the workers have passed through quarantine and are heading to the Okanagan but he did not have specific numbers or locations.

Henry issued an order on April 23 outlining protocols for the foreign workers and their employers.

Employers, for example, have to have suitable accommodation, work practices and hygiene standards to meet things like safe distancing recommendations. Workers have to remain in their accommodations on days when they’re not working, avoid unnecessary visits to public establishments and only leave with the permission of the site coordinator.

Lucas expects there to be a shortage of workers this summer because of COVID-19.

“(It's not) people not wanting to come. I am hearing there are real constraints on internal transportation,” he said.

Most of the Mexican workers are in rural, low income areas so if bus services are cancelled, they are not able to travel to airports to catch the flights to Canada.

On the other hand, some workers from Quebec have already arrived and are waiting for the Sea Crest Campsite to open near Oliver. That’s the main campground for workers from Quebec and is normally run by a non-profit society. Because of liability issues, they are backing away from that this year, Ron Forrest, B.C. Fruit Growers’ Association's manager of orientation and safety training, said.

The plan is to open the campsite Friday but that may not be possible, given all the rules that have to be put in place.

Forrest doesn’t know how many Quebecois are here already, but based on social media there is a lot of interest from Quebec, including from two groups of laid-off Air Canada stewards.

“It is the dream of lots of people to come out west,” he said.

As Canadians, there are no quarantine or isolation requirements for the Quebecois and they are free to travel outside the campsite, Forrest said, but it will be suggested that only one member of each group goes to town to buy groceries and other supplies.

Some of the pickers stay at the camp all summer but others move north with the cherry harvest and often camp in the orchards where they work. That may not be feasible if some growers, for example, aren’t able to supervise the campsites or provide enhanced washing facilities.

Still, there’s going to be lots of jobs for local workers. The association has hired two people to give job orientation and safety training this year.

Anyone looking for work can call Ron Forrest with the B.C. Fruit Growers’ Association at 778-363-3620.

For more information on Henry’s orders concerning temporary foreign workers, go here.


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