Windsor-Essex rescinds 3-week delay on arrival of agriculture workers

·2 min read
The Windsor-Essex County Health Unit earlier this week said employers must cancel, suspend or postpone the arrival of temporary foreign workers to the region. (Mike Evans/CBC - image credit)
The Windsor-Essex County Health Unit earlier this week said employers must cancel, suspend or postpone the arrival of temporary foreign workers to the region. (Mike Evans/CBC - image credit)

The public health unit in Ontario's Windsor-Essex region has reversed course on a plan to stop the arrival of temporary agriculture workers amid the Omicron surge.

The Windsor-Essex County Health Unit (WECHU) said Friday that a letter of instruction issued earlier this week has been rescinded, effective immediately.

That letter said employers must cancel, suspend or postpone the arrival of temporary foreign workers to the region between Jan. 13 and Feb. 1.

"Throughout the week the health unit has worked with all levels of government to formulate a resolution to this issue," the WECHU said in a statement on Friday.

"With the concerted efforts of local leaders in the health-care, housing and social services … the region collectively was able to establish the level of support necessary to meet isolation requirements for workers who are sick or who have been exposed."

About 50 new isolation and recovery spaces will be available by Saturday, with more to be added soon, according to Ontario's Ministry of Agriculture.

CBC
CBC

A statement from the ministry said about 400 agriculture workers will arrive in Windsor-Essex in the next three weeks, largely from Jamaica and Mexico. Most workers from those countries will be double vaccinated against COVID-19, but all will be offered first, second or booster doses at Toronto's Pearson International Airport.

The plan to delay the workers' arrival sparked concerns it could cost farmers millions and lead to massive food waste.

The about-face comes as a relief, says Joe Sbrocchi, general manager of the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers.

"I think growers ... feel good that this has been solved," Sbrocchi told CBC News. "We can carry on and do what we're supposed to be doing, which is farming and producing food for Canadians."

Sbrocchi says the short-lived order caused "a lot of anxiety" but, to his knowledge, no flights were cancelled or pushed because of it.

He says the health unit acted in "haste."

But the mayor of Leamington, Ont., a major farming community in the region, disagrees. Hilda MacDonald said Friday the health unit had been "pushed to the wall and saw [the order] as their only alternative."

"Sometimes we have to engage in drastic measures to get results," MacDonald said.

Public health officials estimate that 2,000 workers have already arrived in the region. During the peak growing season, 8,000 to 10,000 workers are expected.

As of Thursday, there were 66 cases of COVID-19 among workers and another 173 in isolation, according to WECHU.

Jason Viau/CBC
Jason Viau/CBC
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