TORONTO – With the growing season starting in a month, fruit farmer John Thwaites has no idea how much of his workforce will be available.

“At this point, I’m not 100 percent sure that all men will make it,” he says.

The Thwaites Farm in Niagara-on-the-Lake is one of over 2,000 in Canada that employs seasonal foreign workers. He employs 60 men in one season and some have worked there for 20 years.

He says they lost 40 percent of their asparagus crop last year because it was difficult to get workers to Canada. He hopes it won’t happen again this year.

“As we know, the rules change from week to week. And we’re always concerned that governments might change their minds if they let the men in,” he says.

Canada relies on foreign labor for its food supplies. In a normal year, around 24,000 seasonal agricultural workers will arrive. Most are from Mexico and the Caribbean – and the federal government has suspended commercial flights from these locations 31 January.

Ken Forth, president of the Foreign Agriculture Resource Management Service, said they had the resources to get workers onto Canadian soil. “We can book planes in total, just like we can book charter flights. And that’s exactly what we’re doing now,” he says.

Security measures recently in placeLike submitting a negative COVID-19 test before boarding a flight, another on-site test followed by a 14-day quarantine created a barrier, according to agricultural workers.

Migrant Workers Alliance President Syed Hassan says the ever-changing landscape of COVID-19 restrictions in Canada has created confusion on the other end. He says, “All of these changes have meant that many people cannot come. Or cannot come immediately.”

He also says that many workers come from areas with no internet or even telephones and changing restrictions make it difficult to organize. Added, “Now you have to get tested on arrival and get tested before you leave. And workers just don’t have the resources to pay for it.”

He says workers often run into debt just to pay for their test before arriving. The Federal Ministry for Employment and Social Development says they are working to incorporate measures to include specific groups, but time is running out.