Mexico to stop sending workers to Canadian farms hit by COVID-19

Assurances of worker safety sought, FARMS says

An image created by Nexu Science Communication, together with Trinity College in Dublin, shows a model structurally representative of a betacoronavirus, the type of virus linked to COVID-19. (Nexu Science Communication via Reuters)
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Mexico City | Reuters — Mexico will stop sending temporary workers to Canadian farms that have registered a coronavirus outbreak and that do not have proper worker protections, Mexico’s labour ministry said on Tuesday, although it will not completely suspend the program.

The decision came after a coronavirus outbreak in Ontario hit at least 17 farms, killing two Mexican workers aged 24 and 31, and prompting the testing of about 8,000 migrant farm workers.

Canadian farmers rely on 60,000 short-term foreign workers, predominantly from Latin America and the Caribbean, to plant and harvest crops.

This year, Mexico’s Temporary Agricultural Workers Program (PTAT) has sent more than 16,000 people on short-term contracts to Canada, including 10,600 people since the pandemic began, the labour ministry said.

The program was halted only from March 19 to April 9, restarting after Canadian authorities said there were proper health conditions.

Workers planning to travel to farms that have had coronavirus outbreaks or do “not have a strategy of prevention and care for workers” will be reassigned, the labour ministry said in a statement.

Ken Forth, president of Canada’s Foreign Agricultural Resource Management Services (FARMS), said Mexico is looking for assurances that workers will be safe.

“No additional workers will go to the farms where there’s an outbreak until they can demonstrate to the Mexican government that they’ve done all the protocol for the new workers to come,” Forth said.

CNN and Canadian media earlier reported that Mexico had put the program on hold while it reviewed Canadian health policies and procedures, citing Mexican embassy officials in Ottawa.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he expressed condolences to President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in a recent call.

“We are going to make sure that we’re following up,” Trudeau said, citing living conditions and labour standards as areas that must be considered.

— Reporting for Reuters by Daina Beth Solomon and Frank Jack Daniel in Mexico City and Kelsey Johnson in Ottawa.

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