Mexico hits pause on sending temporary foreign workers after COVID-19 deaths

Mexico hits pause on sending temporary foreign workers after COVID-19 deaths

OTTAWA — Mexico won’t send any more temporary foreign workers to Canada until it has more clarity on why two died due to COVID-19, the country’s ambassador to Canada said Monday.

That means as many as 5,000 temporary foreign workers expected to arrive in Canada in the coming months are being held back, for now.

“It’s so we can reassess with the federal authorities, provinces and farmers why this happened and if there is anything to correct,” Juan Jose Gomez Camacho said in an interview.

The two men — one died this month and the other in late May — were employed by different farms in the Windsor, Ont., area, a farming heartland in southwestern Ontario that has seen ongoing outbreaks.

The outbreaks were cited Monday as the reason Ontario Premier Doug Ford said the region can’t follow in the footsteps of others and loosen restrictions designed to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Ford was quick to say people shouldn’t blame the workers.

“They came here, they self-isolated for two weeks and they picked it up since they’ve been here,” he said.

“So I don’t want any finger pointing at these hard-working migrant workers. They’re good people, they mean well, and they’re hard workers too.”

Gomez Camacho said across Canada, 300 Mexicans are believed to have been infected with the novel coronavirus.

His government needs assurances that the situation can be brought under control, he said, before allowing more workers to arrive.

He said agriculture firms reporting outbreaks are even asking Mexico to keep sending people, and “that will not happen.”

But he said the pause is intended to be temporary, respecting the fact that farmers often need workers at specific times, and the government isn’t trying to spoil that.

“We are pausing this quickly now to understand,” he said.

The decision to hit pause is a further blow to the agriculture industry which has been struggling to find enough labour to handle this year’s planting and harvest season, due in large part to the travel restrictions in place to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Mexicans make up about half of the temporary foreign worker population employed in the agriculture sector, which in 2018 meant there were 25,060 people employed on farms, in greenhouses and other related jobs.

The dizzying array of government departments charged with ensuring workers are being treated well is difficult to navigate at the best of times, and COVID-19 threw up even more challenges, Gomez Camacho said.

But he commended the Canadian government for making what he called a “tremendous” effort to put protections in place to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Programs have been implemented at both federal and provincial levels to assist temporary foreign workers since the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. They include money to cover the costs of mandatory isolation requirements as well as the purchase of personal protective equipment.

Gomez Camacho said the Mexican government worked with Canadian officials to design some of those supports, including a provision that workers be paid while they were in isolation upon arriving in Canada.

The vast majority of firms are complying, he said.

“But we also know, we have always known, some will not,” he said.

On his government’s part, they also put in a place a program this year that saw only workers who were requested by name by Canada’s farms and greenhouses allowed to travel here.

He said many workers are connected to small family farms, and have developed relationships over time.

The pause on allowing more to arrive is a nod to that relationship, he said.

“We are doing this out of solidarity with Canada,” he said.

“We understand the role these workers play in your food chain.”

Gomez Camacho said one bright light of the COVID-19 crisis is that Canadians seem to be understanding that as well.

He said the embassy and consulates have fielded calls from Canadians thanking Mexicans for their efforts, and supporting calls for better safeguards on their work.

He said he believes that could be a permanent change in attitude, and will keep working to make it that way.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 15, 2020.

Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Front-line hospital workers have walked off the job at the Rimbey Hospital, and across the province. Photo Submitted
Front-line health care workers on strike across the province, including Rimbey Hospital

The strike is due to cut of 11,000 health care jobs in the province, according to AUPE

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, confirmed more than 1,000 cases over the weekend Monday afternoon. File photo
COVID-19: Central zone active cases up Monday

‘We’ve now crossed the tipping point,’ says Hinshaw

Alberta has 3,651 active cases of COVID-19. (File photo)
432 new COVID cases sets another record Friday

Central zone holds steady at 126 active cases

Ma & Paws Pet Supplies. Facebook/ Ma & Paws Pet Supplies.
Rimbey residents petition for dog park

Request for approval of dog park will be brought up at Tuesday Oct. 27 Town Council meeting.

Cases in Ponoka (East Ponoka County) as of Oct. 27. (alberta.ca)
Diagnosed cases of COVID-19 at three Ponoka businesses

Town ‘strongly encouraging’ residents to wear non-medical masks in public

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau provides an update on the COVID pandemic during a press conference in Ottawa on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Trudeau says pandemic ‘really sucks,’ and that Christmas gatherings are up in the air

The prime minister encouraged residents to continue to follow the advice of local health authorities

The Williams Lake Indian Band is stipulating no-go zones for mushroom picking in areas burned by last summer’s wildfires. 100 Mile Free Press photo
Who controls mushroom harvesting on Indigenous lands?

‘We don’t necessarily know where the mushrooms grow, how old the stands need to be, those types of things.’

Canadian and American flags fly near the Ambassador Bridge at the Canada/USA border crossing in Windsor, Ont. on Saturday, March 21, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Rob Gurdebeke
U.S. election results one factor that could impact immigration to Canada next year

The survey polled 1,523 Canadians between Oct. 23 and Oct. 25

Alberta’s provincial flag flies on a flag pole in Ottawa, Monday July 6, 2020. The Alberta government is hoping to get more Albertans employed by moving to limit the number and type of temporary foreign workers it allows into the province. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Alberta to limit temporary foreign worker program to save jobs for Albertans

Temporary foreign workers already in the province won’t be affected

(Emily Jaycox/Bashaw Star)
Wreath laying ceremony held in Manfred, Alta.

Ceremony marks 64th anniversary of Hungarian revolution, honours settlers

Royal Alexandra Hospital front-line workers walk a picket line after walking off the job in a wildcat strike in Edmonton, on Monday, October 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta labour board orders health-care staff who walked off the job to go back to work

Finance Minister Travis Toews said in a news release that he was pleased with the labour board’s decision

Wetaskiwin Hospital staff join AUPE walk outs across the province Monday Oct. 26, 2020. Shaela Dansereau/ The Pipestone Flyer.
City of Wetaskiwin health-care workers strike in protest of province-wide cuts

Wetaskiwin Hospital staff join other front line hospital workers across the province in walk-outs.

Most Read