Labour shortage filled by Mexicans

The federal government has announced $59 million in extra funding for a program that brings foreign farmworkers into Canada. A worker from Mexico is shown at a Kelowna farm in this file photo.

A federal pledge to improve conditions for migrant farmworkers is insufficient, some labour activists say.

The best way to ensure the labourers from Mexico and the Caribbean are treated fairly is to offer them full immigration status, says a group that speaks on behalf of the migrant workers.

"Without full and permanent immigration status, all other measures will fail to protect workers' lives and livelihoods from COVID-19, poor housing, and exploitation," says a release from the Migrant Rights Network.

Thousands of foreign farmhands typically work on Okanagan farms each year. They come to Canada under a decades-old federal program created because of the difficulty farmers have in finding enough Canadians to do hard, repetitive agricultural labour.

On Friday, in response to some reports that migrant workers are being mistreated, and in particular are at risk of catching COVID-19, the federal government announced $59 million in extra funding for the seasonal farmworker program.

Plans call for $35 million to improve on-farm housing, with funding provided to individual farmers on a 50-50 cost-sharing basis; $16.2 million to bolster the inspection of accommodation to ensure it meets standards; and $7.4 million in direct funding for advocacy groups such as those represented by the Migrant Rights Network. 

"From the very beginning of the pandemic, the health and safety of temporary foreign workers has been a priority. Any unsafe working conditions are completely unacceptable," federal minister of employment Carla Qualtrough said in a government release.

"We are working tirelessly to ensure that temporary foreign workers' rights are protected in Canada," Qualtrough said.

About 47,000 foreign farmhands come to Canada each year, with 18 per cent of them working B.C.