Last year's efforts on farms weren't 'good enough,' labour minister says they need to 'do better'

·2 min read
COVID-19 testing on a Windsor-Essex farm in 2020.
COVID-19 testing on a Windsor-Essex farm in 2020.

(Mucci Farms/Facebook - image credit)

After a year of turmoil in Ontario's agriculture sector, the Ministry of Labour says it's vowed to do more and one new measure involves adding translators to its inspections.

Labour Minister Monte McNaughton told CBC News Friday that the government has learned a lot since the COVID-19 crisis hit farms last year and it's stepping up to ensure workers' safety.

"Translators are going out to hear from workers if they have any concerns," he said.

As for why that wasn't already being done, McNaughton said online resources were available for businesses and workers in different languages last year.

"We really upped our game to ensure that there is a translator on all of these visitors to farms, last year we had some services available but it wasn't good enough and again I'm pulling out all the stops," he said.

To date, McNaughton said 1,000 workers have arrived in Ontario and some 21,000 are expected in the coming months. In 2020, he noted that 12 per cent of workers were diagnosed with the disease and said, "we have to do better."

About two weeks into the province's proactive farm inspections, the Ministry of Labour has only visited a small fraction, but McNaughton says the initiative will ramp up as more workers continue to arrive.

In an email, the ministry said as of Feb. 9, it has inspected 31 farms, a majority of which were in the Windsor-Essex region. Out of these inspections, six COVID-19 related orders were issued that involved physical distancing and masking.

The ministry is looking at living conditions and COVID-19 safety measures in workplaces, including personal protective equipment, physical distancing protocols are followed and there's updated safety plans.

Richard Lautens/The Canadian Press
Richard Lautens/The Canadian Press

McNaughton added that he's doubled the number of phone lines and staff at their health and safety action centre and added translators there too.

"There's no excuse to any business owner out there," he said. "But again, overwhelmingly I believe that most farmers want to do the right thing they have stepped up its ensuring that if there are bad actors out there we are solving that problem and we're there at their doorstep."

If negligence on farms is found, McNaughton said fines can go up to $1.5 million and include jail time.

Last year, McNaughton said they inspected 1,000 of Ontario's 49,000 farms and issued 400 orders.