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Feds inject new funds to help stave off coronavirus outbreaks among migrant workers

Feds inject new funds to help stave off coronavirus outbreaks among migrant workers
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"There have been COVID-19 outbreaks on a number of Canadian farms that have significantly impacted the health and safety of workers," the government acknowledged in a press release on Friday.

Speaking a press conference on Friday, Trudeau said the funds would go towards ensuring "more farm inspections," providing "emergency relief when needed" and improving "the overall living conditions on farms."

The announcement comes after three migrant workers died of COVID-19 in recent months. Another 1,100 are currently ill with the disease, according to Syed Hussan , Executive Director of the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change (MWAC).

Of these funds, over $7 million is pledged to go towards supports for temporary foreign workers by beefing up outreach and support organzations. In addition to that, $16.2 million is slated to strengthen inspections and $35 million will go toward increasing the health and safety on farms and in employee living quarters — including making temporary or emergency housing, personal protective equipment and sanitary stations available.

Many of the farms where these migrant workers spend their days tending to crops and keeping Canadians fed were declared essential when the COVID-19 outbreak began. The workers were allowed to continue entering Canada, despite border closures.

However, Hussan explained during a Thursday press conference that due to the precarious status of the workers within Canada, it can be difficult for them to speak out when their employers take advantage of them or subject them to substandard work conditions — something MWAC says has gone on for "decades" amid "unheeded warnings."

While MWAC has been speaking out about the issues temporary foreign workers face for some time, the COVID-19 pandemic has shed new light on some of the conditions they face. Migrant worker Luis Gabriel Flores Flores said Thursday that he and three other workers were fired after they were suspected to have spoken to the press about their working conditions.

Flores said he was fired the day after his bunkmate died of COVID-19, with his employer allegedly telling him they’d be "sending [him] back to Mexico at dawn."

On the farm, Flores alleges, they were forced to live in dirty, confined conditions — where no masks or sanitizer was provided.

"There was very little space in the room, and in the houses," he said. "It was impossible to keep distant."

Now, the Windsor-Essex region is one of Canada’s coronavirus hotspots — with many of the reported cases coming from the agri-farm sector.

"The Red Cross is helping the most at-risk workers in the Windsor Essex region in particular," Trudeau said on Friday.

Later in the press conference, he continued to acknowledge the impact COVID-19 is having on these migrant workers.

"We look at the tragedies that have hit temporary foreign workers community with deep sorrow," Trudeau said.

"This is something that is on Canadians, we require support from people from around the world to grow our food, to harvest our food, to get food on Canadians plates."

Mexico briefly hit pause on the temporary foreign worker program in mid-June after two workers died from COVID-19, halting as many as 5,000 workers from coming to Canada. Within days, however, Canada and Mexico had hammered out a plan to get the program going once more — after Canada pledged to ramp up inspections and oversight at its farms to fight the spread of COVID-19.

The new funds also come just over a month after Mexico s Ambassador to Canada Juan José Gómez Camacho, issued a warning for Canada: any farm that fails to follow COVID-19 rules will not receive help from any Mexican workers.

"Let me say something. Any farm that does not follow the rules will certainly not receive any Mexican work," Gómez Camacho told CTV Power Play host Evan Solomon on June 22.

"The challenge we have, the reason there have been infections and sadly, three deaths now, is because in some farms these rules are not being followed."
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