Travel restrictions are coming to BC this week, and that could put a chill on farmers’ ability to access domestic labour.
Specifics of the new restrictions have yet to be unveiled, but the province has said they’ll limit travel between health regions. Signs will be posted at the Alberta border asking non-residents not to enter.
This concerns growers, who have been scrambling to arrange worker arrivals during the ongoing limits on international flights and now face a new round of domestic restrictions.
“It definitely is a concern,” says BC Agriculture Council executive director Reg Ens. “We’re almost in the same place that we were last year.”
Ens says industry expects incoming domestic workers will be permitted entry as farming is considered essential work, but notes that some may choose not to travel due to shifting restrictions.
“It’s definitely going to be challenge,” he says.
The province has not provided guarantees regarding the status of farm workers.
BC agriculture minister Lana Popham told Country Life in BC last week that the situation remained fluid but she didn’t expect the province to implement travel restrictions in “the foreseeable future.” However, she was quick to support the proposed orders this week.
“Our focus is on protecting British Columbians using measures that get at the source of the problems,” she said in a Facebook post noting that “unnecessary leisure travel” was the target.
Agriculture staff directed questions regarding domestic workers to BC Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth.
Farnworth’s staff provided a statement to Country Life in BC that did not mention farmworkers. Rather it said, “We are not interested in disrupting commuters and people going about their lives.”
Ens, for his part, hopes the temporary nature of the restrictions, set to run until the end of May, will have minimal effect.
“I believe most of those domestic workers start to come in June,” he says. “Hopefully we’re far enough along in the vaccination process and things have settled down a little bit so that has opened up a bit by then.”
The province plans to meet with industry on Friday to discuss the situation.
With files from Ronda Payne