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"Food supply system will suffer greatly"

CAN: Growers cry foul as health unit halts inflow of temporary foreign workers

A local health unit's decision to prohibit farms from bringing temporary foreign workers to Windsor-Essex for three weeks has area growers crying foul. In response to a “significant” number of COVID-19 outbreaks at county farms, the health unit on Wednesday released a new letter of instruction ordering employers of temporary foreign workers to immediately “cancel, suspend, or postpone any arrangements to facilitate entry or arrival” of migrant workers until at least Feb. 2.

“We’re in a public health emergency in Windsor-Essex,” said the acting medical officer of health Dr. Shanker Nesathurai. “The burden of COVID-19 among the migrant farmworker community at the current time exceeds the community resources to manage the appropriate and compassionate response.”

Not all farms, however, are behind the health unit’s decision.
“This is unconscionable, what’s happening,” said Joe Sbrocchi, general manager of the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers. "We’re still trying to figure out what our position is — it was dropped like a bomb on us very late (Tuesday).” While Nesathurai indicated the pause on new temporary foreign workers could extend beyond Feb. 2 if necessary, Sbrocci told the Star he hopes the problem is solved “long before” January’s end. An estimated 2,000 workers were expected to arrive in the coming weeks, without whom the “robust but not impervious” food supply system will suffer.

“We’ve learned much over the last two years. Why don’t we employ some of it?” Sbrocchi said. Growers may face watching their livelihoods “flushed down the toilet,” while workers who have returned to Canada for years to support their families abroad are “stuck in solitary confinement. I feel like we’re targeting all the wrong people, the people that have done everything right.”

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