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Windsor-Essex businesses have ordered a halt to the arrival of temporary foreign workers in the Ontario region

Public health officials in southwestern Ontario have suspended the arrival of any temporary foreign workers in the Windsor-Essex area for three weeks.

Windsor-Essex County Health Unit (WECHU) Acting Medical Officer of Health Dr Shanker Nesathurai released a new letter of instruction to owners or operators of businesses that employ temporary foreign workers on Wednesday.

According to the letter, they must immediately cancel, suspend or postpone temporary foreign worker arrivals to the southwestern Ontario region between Jan. 13 and Feb. 1.

“We are in a public health emergency in Windsor-Essex and the burden of COVID-19 among the migrant farm worker community right now exceeds community resources,” Nesathurai said at a press briefing on Wednesday.

Nesathurai said 275 migrant workers are self-isolating in the region. They have either tested positive for COVID-19 or are in close contact with a confirmed case. But officials lack the space to look after people.

A federally funded isolation and recovery center in Windsor was empty a week ago, Nesathurai said, but it is now full, along with three other hotel sites housing isolated people.

The public health unit is concerned that there are not enough resources to monitor workers in isolation.

“The problem here is that we’ve already exhausted our ability to self-isolate people,” Nesathurai said. “So that means if people are infected today and put other people at risk, we’ve already exhausted the hotel’s self-isolation.”

Windsor-Essex County Health Unit (WECHU) Acting Medical Officer of Health Dr Shanker Nesathurai on Wednesday issued a letter of direction to owners or operators of businesses that employ temporary foreign workers. (McMaster University)

Pending further instructions, farmers may resume bringing temporary foreign workers to the area on February 2.

Thousands of workers are expected to come to the Windsor-Essex area for seasonal agricultural work.

WECHU estimates that around 2,000 workers had already arrived. Some 8,000 to 10,000 are expected during the peak growing season.

Nesathurai said the large number of outbreaks in agricultural settings and a limited capacity of the entire local health system also contributed to the decision to suspend worker arrivals.

Eight farm businesses and around 15 dormitories where workers stay are being monitored for COVID-19 outbreaks, officials said on Wednesday,

The federal government oversees the program, which facilitates entry for seasonal workers and provides guidelines for housing.

Last month, Canada’s Auditor General released a scathing report that said federal inspectors ignored pandemic regulations for temporary foreign workers and failed to monitor how employers were protecting their staff.

“What we are seeing is once again government and employers blame migrant workers for COVID-19 outbreaks, as recent years have proven their living and working conditions to be the real cause. “said Syed Hussan, executive director of the advocacy group. Migrant Workers Alliance for Change.

“The federal government, the province and the region have had two years to prepare. It would be the third.

Windsor-Essex businesses have ordered a halt to the arrival of temporary foreign workers in the Ontario region
Syed Hussan, of the Migrant Rights Network, said suspending the arrival of temporary foreign workers blamed them for the spread of the virus. (Krystalle Ramlakhan / CBC)

Hussan has advocated throughout the pandemic that low-income workers, including migrant farm workers, need income support to access safer housing.

He said suspending the arrival of workers blamed them, and that it shouldn’t be “surprising” to all levels of government that people need a place to isolate themselves and recover if they are. sick.

No space for isolation

In December, the City of Windsor wanted the federal government to commit to more funding for the Windsor-Essex Isolation and Recovery Center for farm workers. Funding is expected to end March 31.

Mayor Drew Dilkens said at the time that any new worker in the area would self-isolate at the center upon arriving in Essex County.

Temporary workers were to begin arriving in Windsor-Essex in mid-January for the next agricultural season.

On Wednesday, there was no indication that the government would continue to fund the isolation and recovery center. WECHU officials say they have engaged elected officials at all levels on the current need to isolate migrant workers.

WECHU said failure to meet the isolation requirement could result in fines ranging from $ 750 for individuals to $ 10 million for businesses, with the possibility of jail time.

At least 4 workers died in Ontario

In the early stages of the pandemic, Windsor-Essex saw a disproportionate number of COVID-19 cases among migrant farm workers.

At least four temporary foreign workers have died in Ontario since the start of the pandemic. They include: