Ontario is assuring migrant workers on farms that they will not lose their jobs, if they contract COVID-19, as the province provides a more targeted testing approach for farms experiencing recent outbreaks.
On Wednesday, Premier Doug Ford said that most parts of Windsor-Essex can move into Stage 2 of reopening and offered a three-point plan to reduce the risk of coronavirus transmission on farms through the community.
Ford said that on June 25 at 12:01 am most of the region will be able to move into the next stage of reopening, except for Kingsville and Leamington.
These regions are not able to move forward due to recent outbreaks, especially those in the agriculture and agri-food sectors, which are posing challenges that require a targeted response.
“We are expanding testing on all farms and will bring mobile testing units to the farms. Anyone who needs a test and get a test,” Ford said.
“Thank you to the farmers for their help, this is the only way we can contain the virus.”
The premier emphasized that temporary workers will not lose their job or be sent home if they test positive for the virus.
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“We are doing everything we can to help Windsor-Essex contain this virus and get back on track, so we can allow local businesses to reopen and get more people back to work,” Ford said.
“Clearly, our agricultural sector in this part of the province is being hit particularly hard. Our three-point plan will give farmers the support they need to protect essential workers and ensure they can keep putting food safely on our tables.”
According to the Province, the three-point plan builds on the work already underway by the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit and enhances the coordinated efforts between the Province, and federal and local authorities.
The first part of the plan is to have ongoing and expanded testing on-site.
To date, about 350 asymptomatic workers have been tested at their worksite since on-site testing launched this past weekend and Ontario is currently engaging employers to schedule more mobile testing on farms.
The second part of the plan will ensure that temporary foreign workers are entitled to the same benefits and protections as any other worker in Ontario.
That includes workers’ compensation benefits, which are administered by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB). It also includes protections afforded by the Employment Standards Act.
“Under Ontario’s new infectious disease emergency leave provisions, a worker’s job is protected while they take unpaid leave due to COVID-19,” the province said.
In certain cases, temporary foreign workers may also be eligible to apply for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB). To access the federal benefit, workers must have earned $5,000 in the last 12 months or in the previous year.
And for the final point, the Chief Medical Officer of Health will issue new public health guidance allowing positive asymptomatic workers to continue working as long as they follow the public health measures in their workplace to minimize the risk of transmission to others.
“A worker’s passport does not determine how they are treated in our system,” said Labour Monte Minister McNaughton. “That’s not the Ontario way. If you’re working in this province, I want you to know that your health and safety is a priority for our government.”
The Chief Medical Officer of Health and health experts will continue to closely monitor the evolving situation in all regions of the province to advise when public health restrictions can be gradually loosened or adjusted if necessary.
On Monday, Ford announced that the City of Toronto and Peel Region could enter Stage 2 of reopening on June 24, leaving Windsor-Essex as the only region to remain in Stage 1.