The labor troubles in the Canadian fruit and vegetable industry may get worse as Mexico plans to keep migrant workers from traveling to the northern nation amid a wave of coronavirus outbreaks on farms.
There will be a “temporary pause” on migrant workers traveling to Canada while protocols and sanitary situations are reviewed, Daniel Millan, a spokesman for Mexico’s Foreign Ministry, said Tuesday in an email. The move comes amid concerns there are inadequate protections to keep workers safe from Covid-19 after two workers died and hundreds fell ill on farms in Ontario.
“It’ll be a huge problem,” said Joelle Faulkner, chief executive officer of Area One Farms, an alternative asset management firm in Toronto. “Even places that do have enough labor for spring may not have enough labor for fall.”
Business.financialpost.com reports that outbreaks among farm workers have been reported in Canada and the U.S. are threatening harvests just as the countries head into the peak of summer produce season. Canada’s fruit and vegetable industry is particularly reliant on migrant workers, who often come from Mexico, Jamaica and Guatemala to plant, tend and harvest crops. More than 60,000 workers help do everything from prune apples trees to plant asparagus.
Okanagan fruit growers struggle to find labor
The good news for Okanagan fruit growers struggling to find labor, is the cherry crop will likely be smaller and ready for picking later this summer than it has been the past two years. But with COVID-19 restricting the number of workers from outside B.C., the bad news is fruit growers are very stressed about getting their crops off, with cherry picking already started in the South Okanagan.
“We’re just at the stage where we really have to decide whether we launch a real earnest campaign to get able bodied local workers out on the farms, just to save the crop,” Glen Lucas the general manager of the B.C. Fruit Growers’ Association said after hearing that Mexico was temporarily stopping workers from coming to Canada.
“Temporary foreign workers form a base,” he said, “It’s not the whole work force. We hire a lot of local people. We hire a lot of Quebec people. We hire backpackers (people from other countries who travel with work visas). Now we will pretty much have to hire anyone who we can get.”
Mexico announced yesterday, June 15, that it would stop its citizens from coming to Canada after two workers died of COVID-19 in Ontario.
“Recently we had to cancel two charter flights because the workers didn’t show up,” Lucas said. Quebecers and backpackers are also in short supply, he said, and growers are “very concerned about having adequate workers.”