Ontario has launched a three-point plan to assist farmers and migrant workers through the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, Windsor and other parts of Essex County will be allowed to begin Stage 2 of reopening on Thursday. Leamington and Kingsville will remain in Stage 1.
Premier Doug Ford made the announcement today after taking a hard stance earlier this week against farmers that he accused farmers of “brushing off” his request to make sure workers were tested for the virus. Ford said in one briefing earlier this week he was “begging” farmers to cooperate with the province.
Ford assured all farmworkers that they are protected if they test positive for COVID-19, “No one will be sent home if you test positive for COVID-19. If you test positive you will be eligible for WSIB benefits and if you worked here last year you may be eligible for CERB.”
“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,” said Ford. “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.”
The province hopes the plan will allow Windsor-Essex will be able to move into Stage 2 of the reopening process as soon as possible.
The three-point plan includes:
- Ongoing and expanded on-site testing
Ontario is continuing to facilitate on-site testing at agri-food businesses and community assessment centres to make proactive testing more timely and accessible. About 350 asymptomatic workers have been tested at their worksite since on-site testing launched this past weekend. Ontario is currently engaging employers to schedule more mobile testing on farms. Early identification of workers who are not showing symptoms, but who may be infected with COVID-19, will help reduce the potential spread of the virus in the workplace and the community.
- Access to Employment Benefits and Supports
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.
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.
- New Public Health Guidance
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. This guidance will provide clarity and assurance that local public health officials will assist with interpreting test results and developing a plan that, first and foremost, ensures essential workers in the sector are able to return to work safely and meet the business-critical operational needs on a case-by-case basis.