Tractor spraying soybean field in sunset

Provinces introduce new support programs and requirements for agriculture producers

Canada Publication May 7, 2020 - 11 AM ET

Following on the heels of new federal support programs for producers employing temporary foreign workers (TFWs), several provinces have announced initiatives to assist agribusinesses faced with an expected shortage in farm workers. For example, British Columbia has arranged for TFWs to live in government-managed accommodations during the 14-day quarantine period after their arrival, Quebec has launched a $45 million agricultural investment initiative, and Alberta and Ontario have launched job connector programs specifically to help offset the shortage in TFWs expected. Below, we provide a summary of the British Columbia and Quebec initiatives and the associated requirements.

As Norton Rose Fulbright recently discussed, agribusinesses across Canada are tackling the challenge of securing skilled foreign workers and ensuring they are fully meeting federal requirements related to COVID-19. Now, some provinces have established programs aimed at reducing some logistical burdens and helping agribusinesses meet consumer demands. Employers of TFWs should be aware that some of these programs impose additional requirements. Agribusinesses should, therefore, regularly check their provincial governments’ websites for updates on support programs and ensure they are complying with the terms of these programs as well as the continuing directives of the provincial chief medical officer. 

British Columbia’s TFW accommodations and authorization process

British Columbia recently adopted a program that mandates all TFWs who are working in British Columbia under the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP) and the Agriculture Stream (AgStream) stay in government-managed accommodations for the 14-day self-isolation period after their arrival in British Columbia. The province will fund hotel and food-service costs for asymptomatic TFWs during the self-isolation period, but employers will be required to pay TFWs for a minimum of 30 hours per week during self-isolation, and at the rate of pay specified on the federal labour market impact assessment. 

TFWs will self-monitor for and self-report any COVID-19 related symptoms. The province will then transport TFWs who are asymptomatic after two weeks to authorized farm enterprise employers throughout British Columbia during the pandemic. To become authorized, farm operators must apply to the province, provide a completed mandatory COVID-19 workplace risk assessment, and implement a mandatory COVID-19 infection prevention and control protocol to reduce the spread of the virus.

Following receipt of a farm operator’s application and before releasing the hired TFWs from their 14-day self-isolation, the province will inspect the farm. This inspection will focus on ensuring the farm is in compliance with its infection prevention and control protocol and is ready to receive the workers. 

More details about British Columbia’s program are available here

Quebec’s agricultural investment initiative

Quebec’s $45 million initiative is designed to mobilize Quebecers to participate in agricultural work and mitigate the shortage of TFWs amid COVID-19.

Most of the funding is dedicated to $100 weekly bonuses for agricultural workers. Workers can receive these bonuses on top of normal wages for a maximum of 24 weeks.1 Additional funding will assist agribusinesses with labour transportation costs and human resources support to help train and integrate workers.2 Workers and agribusinesses may qualify for other government assistance as well, though some conditions may apply.3  

To be eligible for the bonuses, workers must: receive minimum wage ($13.10 per hour), work for an agricultural company producing food products, work a minimum of 25 hours per week, be at least 15 years of age at the start of the employment period, and register with their regional Agricultural Employment Center (AEC) (Montreal residents must register with Agrijob).4 The Quebec government has set up a free training website for people with little to no farming experience.5 

More details about the initiative are available here and through this bulletin from the Government of Quebec. 

Agribusinesses and farm operators are reminded they must continue to operate in compliance with all federal and provincial rules and contravening the Quarantine Act could result in fines of up to $1 million, imprisonment up to three years or both.

For information about other available government relief programs, refer to our guide.

The authors wish to thank Preston Brasch, articling student, for his assistance in preparing this legal update.

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