Mexican farm workers destined for Okanagan begin landing in Vancouver tomorrow - InfoNews

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Mexican farm workers destined for Okanagan begin landing in Vancouver tomorrow

Image Credit: (Bob Brawdy/The Tri-City Herald via AP, File)
April 14, 2020 - 3:00 PM

A charter plane with about 150 Mexican farm workers will land at Vancouver International Airport tomorrow and some will come to the Okanagan after undergoing a mandatory 14-day isolation period.

The arrival tomorrow, April 14, comes two days after both the federal and provincial governments announced programs to help fund the temporary foreign workers.

The province has agreed to pay for the two-week isolation period by putting the workers up in Vancouver area hotels.

“That will help, I think, ensure the care of the workers is more standard,” Glen Lucas, general manager of the B.C. Fruit Growers Association told iNFOnews.ca.

The federal government will pay farmers $1,500 for each worker who goes through the isolation period.

The workers have to be paid for a minimum of 30 hours per week while in isolation, which is about $900. The other $600 will help offset the extra cost of hiring charter flights versus the traditional commercial flights and paying to bus the workers to the Okanagan, Lucas said.

Growers will still have higher costs this year because they need to have more sanitation facilities, cleaning and may have to have more rooms so the workers can keep at least two metres apart.

Not all 150 workers will come to the Okanagan as some are destined for farms in the Fraser Valley. Workers will arrive at their work sites based on when they were first scheduled to be here, but given the two week isolation period their arrival will be about six weeks behind schedule.

The bulk of workers are needed starting in mid-June so Lucas is hopeful they will all be here by then. More charter flights will be arriving shortly.

The provincial protocol governing what COVID-19 rules apply to these workers was put in place last week. It is recommending that, once in the orchards, the workers stay there and have their groceries delivered to them rather than make forays into town.

Lucas understands that to be a recommendation, not an order. Given the risk of contracting COVID-19 while not at the farm, he suspects most workers will prefer to stay isolated from Canadians.

Keeping workers isolated to farms is something that worker rights activists have spoken against out of concerns that they can be trapped on orchards with poor housing and working conditions.

The workers are fully briefed on the protocols so they know what to expect when they arrive in Canada, Lucas said.

“My understanding is the workers are very anxious to come,” he said. “They really are a part of the farm. They have been coming for many years.”

About 7,000 temporary workers usually come from Mexico. While they’re arriving by charter now, that may change if commercial flights between the two countries start up again.

Another 1,500 workers usually come from the Caribbean, mostly Jamaica. They may arrive by commercial flights starting in May, Lucas said, noting that things seem to change every day.

Of the 8,500 agricultural workers in the Temporary Foreign Worker Program in B.C., about 4,500 workers come to the Okanagan each year, although historically some have moved back and forth between the Okanagan and the Fraser Valley.


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