The province is offsetting the cost of special measures farmers took this summer to keep domestic workers safe from the risk of COVID-19.
Between 1,500 and 2,000 domestic seasonal workers help with fruit harvest throughout the Okanagan and Creston areas each year. Without domestic workers, BC Fruit Growers Association labour manager Ron Forrest says “there would have been a lot of fruit left on trees.”
Keeping those workers safe is critical, both for the crop and to keep the communities that host them safe.
Originally announced June 29, the BC Seasonal Domestic Farm Worker COVID-19 Safety Program totals $50,000 and will benefit at least 25 farms. The funding covers up to 70% of eligible expenses incurred between April 1 and October 31 to a maximum of $2,000 per farm. Applications must be received by the BC Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries by October 31.
These costs may relate to sanitation measures for common areas; cleaning, disinfecting and sanitization products, and infrastructure costs related to on farm housing.
The funding was part of $652,000 the province announced in June to ensure safe camping conditions for domestic workers at sites in Oliver, Summerland and the Creston Valley. It extended funding granted in 2020 of $422,000, bringing the total investment in domestic farm workers safety to nearly $1.1 million over two years.
The funding paid off. There were no cases of COVID among domestic workers last year, and this year appears to have been equally successful.
“There is a pickers camp in Oliver, which will have around 150 people. It was anywhere between 80 and 230 (workers) maximum this year,” says Forrest. “We never had a problem.”
Government and industry worked together to provide adequate facilities at the Oliver and Summerland camps over the last two seasons. Coordinators oversaw activities at each location, ensuring the safety of workers. The province also introduced a seasonal liaison position in Creston to act as a COVID-19 coordinator there.
The efforts to reduce risks among domestic workers paralleled efforts to keep foreign workers safe. The majority of temporary foreign workers, nearly 10,000, participate in the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program. During the past two seasons, the province has accommodated and fed them during their two-week mandatory quarantine prior to their heading to farms.
With files from Peter Mitham