Fishing and agriculture sectors worried new travel rules will impact foreign workers

·3 min read

FREDERICTON — Fishing and farming associations in Atlantic Canada that rely on temporary foreign workers say they are worried new travel rules could have a big impact on their operations.

Canadian airlines last week agreed to suspend commercial flights from Mexico and the Caribbean until April 30 in an effort to prevent the circulation of COVID-19 variants. And as of Thursday, all international passenger flights to Canada will have to land at one of four airports, none of which is east of Montreal.

National Farmers Union in New Brunswick executive director Suzanne Fournier says the changes could delay workers' arrival to the region.

"It could limit the amount of workers able to get to New Brunswick in a timely manner," she said in an interview Tuesday.

She said about 1,500 temporary foreign workers travel to New Brunswick every year, and about 200 of them work in the agriculture sector.

"We're hopeful that (Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada) is working on alleviating the pressure of accessing our workforce, especially in the Maritimes where the airports have been closed to international travel," she said.

Nova Scotia Seafood Alliance president Osborne Burke said Ottawa should have addressed temporary foreign workers when it announced the new travel restrictions last week.

"Are they going to allow charter flights, which are going to cost us significantly more per person than if it was a commercial flight? Then on top of that, our concern is there is no reference to Moncton or Halifax. They identified four international airports, but none this far east," he said in an interview Tuesday.

Burke said many processors were expecting temporary foreign workers to arrive on commercial flights on April 1 and begin two weeks of quarantine.

He said a lack of details in last week's announcement has left people in the industry with a lot of questions.

"Our best made plans are coming apart, and now we've got to figure out how we're going to get these workers," he said. "There are thousands upon thousands of temporary foreign workers who come in the peak season for agriculture and the seafood industry."

Burke said he understands the need to protect the population from COVID-19 but the restrictions could significantly increase food-processing costs.

"We don't have the labour workforce in our rural areas that we need to process, or that are willing to come to work to process, so in the peak seasons, we need the extra workers to process the product that's being landed," he said. "It's critical to the economy for everybody."

Nat Richard, executive director of the Lobster Processors Association, based in Moncton, N.B., said the travel announcement caught the industry off guard.

He said it's hoped that direct charter flights will be permitted into Halifax and Moncton, but at this point he's waiting for clarity from Ottawa.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 2, 2021.

Kevin Bissett, The Canadian Press