The governments of Canada and Ontario are taking additional steps to help farmers better protect the health and safety of agri-food workers in the province during the COVID-19 outbreak to ensure the continued supply of locally grown food all year round.
A new agreement between Ontario and the federal government will see Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada invest an additional $11.6 million to help support efforts by Ontario producers to stop the spread of COVID-19 on their farms. Actions such as building physical barriers for worker separation, upgrading HVAC systems and enhancing hand-washing facilities will be eligible for this funding. The federal funding that will be delivered by Ontario is in addition to the Ontario government’s commitment in June of up to $15 million to support workplace safety enhancements in the sector through the Enhanced Agri-food Workplace Protection Program.
“Protecting the health and well-being of all farm workers who are helping ensure the food security for Canadians has been a top priority since the beginning of the pandemic,” said the Honourable Marie-Claude Bibeau, federal Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food. “We will continue to provide Ontario farmers with the support they need to ensure the right measures are in place to safeguard their employees and limit the spread of the virus.”
“We’re committed to ensuring farm workers can do their jobs safely, and that they are able to continue to provide Ontario families with safe, high-quality food,” said the Honourable Ernie Hardeman, Ontario Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. “Ontario’s agri-food businesses and their hardworking employees play a critical role in keeping our food supply chain strong and we’re doing everything we can to help support them.”
“This investment will support Ontario producers in their efforts to ensure health and safety on their farms,” said Neil Ellis, Parliamentary Secretary to the federal Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food. “Through changes to the physical workplace, housing areas and individual PPE accommodation, this expanded program delivers added protection and peace of mind.”
“Ensuring the health and safety of our families and employees continues to be the highest priority for our members,” said Keith Currie, President of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture. “Adopting pandemic protocols and making adaptations on farm and to accommodations has added another layer of complexity and expense to our farm businesses from spring planting through harvest. This investment of $26.6 million from the federal and provincial governments will directly contribute to ensuring our ability to produce high quality, affordable food close to home while ensuring greater employee protection.”
Under the expanded program, the amount farmers can claim for preventive expenses including a combination of workplace modifications, PPE, transportation and temporary housing will double to $15,000.
The program will also include a new category for small capital projects of up to $100,000 for housing modifications, workplace modifications and equipment to allow greater physical distancing for workers.
This added funding for enhanced worker and workplace safety builds on numerous government actions taken this year to support Ontario farms and other agri-food sector businesses.
Such supports include:
- Helping agri-food sectors cover the incremental costs associated with the mandatory 14-day isolation period through $50 million in federal funding for the Mandatory Isolation Support Program for Temporary Foreign Workers (TFW).
- Investing up to $77.5 million through the federal Emergency Processing Fund to help companies implement changes to safeguard the health and safety of workers due to the impacts of COVID-19.
- Increasing funding for the Ontario Risk Management Program by $50 million starting in 2020 to help farmers enrolled in the program deal with the severe market challenges resulting from COVID-19.
- Increasing the amounts farmers can receive in AgriStability interim payments to 75 per cent of their estimated final payment to help with cash flow.
- Building a Canada-Ontario AgriRecovery program for hog and cattle to help cover increased costs of feeding market-ready animals due to COVID-19 related processing delays.
- Enhancing the AgriInsurance coverage to include labour shortages due to COVID-19 during the 2020 growing season.
- Launching an online toolkit with information on prevention, accommodations, wages, social, health and wellness assessments, and social supports that are available to farmers and their workers.
- Providing red-tape relief by extending more than 20 licenses or permit regulations covering the agri-food sector during the period covered by COVID-19 emergency orders.
The Enhanced Agri-food Workplace Protection Program and the Emergency On-Farm Support Fund would also work in concert with other federal/provincial/territorial efforts and other federal programs to mitigate and limit the spread of COVID-19 among agri-food workers.