The pandemic has a lot of us thinking about food security. Maybe we should also be thinking about the workers who grow and harvest the food we eat.
Migrant farmworkers are a vulnerable underclass, and not just because of the pandemic.
Transient farm work is hard at the best of times. The last few years have been brutal.
In BC, migrant farmworkers often work up to 16 hours per day with no right to overtime, said Byron Cruz, of the Sanctuary Health Collective and Migrant Rights Network. In a Nov. 9 Global News story, Cruz said more than 700 workers from Mexico, Guatemala, Jamaica and the Philippines were displaced by the floods.
Every year thousands of workers, mostly from Mexico and other Latin American countries, arrive to work on Canadian farms through the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program run by Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC).
Canada’s Auditor-General criticized the federal government for turning its back on migrant farmworkers during the pandemic.
In a recently released report, Auditor-General Karen Hogan said ESDC inspectors failed to conduct proper checks–or in some case any checks at all to– ensure farmers were following proper pandemic health regulations to protect foreign workers. For example, employers are required to provide drinking water, separate accommodations for infected workers, and dedicated quarantine areas for newly arrived workers.
In her report, the Auditor General said inspectors often approved pandemic protocols even though “poor-quality evidence or no evidence was collected.”
TheAuditor-General found problems in nearly three out of every four inspections. She found inspectors gave employers passing grades, despite being non-compliant with the pandemic regulations, 16 percent of the time.
Large COVID-19 outbreaks at some farms early in the pandemic prompted the government to invest $16.2 million to improve farm inspections. But theAuditor-General found the extra funding made little impact on the ground.
In one case it took a government inspector one week to respond after learning from a farm owner about a COVID outbreak.
In a press conference after the report’s release, Hogan said the feds dropped the ball.
“When you sit back and look at the results, where 88 percent of inspections could not demonstrate that the employers were protecting the health and safety of workers, it just leads you to conclude that it is a systemic problem,” Hogan said.