‘It is critical that we take every step possible to protect worker health and safety and ensure the province's food producers can continue operating’
Ontario is investing $10 million through the Enhanced Agri-food Workplace Protection Program (EAWPP).
The program will allow more farmers and agri-food operators to purchase personal protective equipment, enhance cleaning and disinfection and redesign workstations to better protect workers. It will cover costs retroactive to March 13, 2021.
“It is critical that we take every step possible to protect worker health and safety and ensure the province's food producers can continue operating,” said Ernie Hardeman, minister of agriculture, food and rural affairs. “The men and women on our farms and in the agri-food sector are essential workers on the front lines of the pandemic and deserve our support and appreciation.”
Farms and agri-food businesses that hire three or more employees will be eligible for funding. Also eligible are businesses and workers, including corn detasselers, transporters, hatcheries, and primary processing (e.g., cutting, cleaning, packaging, storage and refrigeration of raw plant foods to prevent food from spoiling before it reaches consumers).
The funding will help farmers who experience unexpected costs for short-term or temporary housing and transportation as a result of a COVID-19 outbreak among on-farm employees. The program can also be used to respond to emerging issues and risks, according to the government.
Detailed program information and application forms will be available when the intake opens on April 22, 2021. Applications will be accepted while funding is available or until November 30, 2021, said the government.
Last year, the Ontario government’s Agri-food Workplace Protection Program committed $26.6 million to help farmers and other agri-food places with expenses related to protecting workers against COVID-19.
The federal government also announced a $58.6 million additional investment to the Temporary Foreign Workers (TFW) program in August 2020. The funding was allocated to help safeguard the health and safety of Canadian and migrant workers from COVID-19.
The following are examples of projects completed with support from the first round of Ontario’s Agri-food Workplace Protection Program:
- To improve workers' living conditions, a project received financial assistance to purchase a new mobile home. This home will assist with physical distancing amongst temporary foreign workers and allow the farm operation to reduce the number of workers per bedroom within their existing housing facilities to one person, limit their interaction and keep temporary foreign workers safe.
- With the government's support, a project focused on expanding a company's building space was completed. This resulted in health and safety improvements that benefit workers as it allows adequate physical distancing to protect workers.
Stakeholders welcomed the funding, recognizing how it would help keep farm workers safe.
“The OFVGA appreciates the continued funding to help offset some of the additional costs associated with ensuring the health and safety of farm workers during the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Bill George, chair of the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers' Association (OFVGA). “The health of our workforce is number one priority, as without these critical employees' fruit and vegetable farmers would not be able to continue producing food for the people of Ontario.”
“Extending funding and access to this program will help address the concerns we've heard from farmers regarding cost and availability of personal protective equipment,” said Peggy Brekveld, president, Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA). “OFA appreciates the efforts of the Ontario government to deliver this program, and we encourage farm businesses struggling with PPE shortages to utilize these resources to protect the health and safety of our essential workforce.”
In March, Ontario said it has hired more than 100 new occupational health and safety inspectors to support the province’s business inspection campaigns amid the COVID-19 pandemic.