Nelson-Creston MLA Michelle Mungall is seen at the 2019 Creston Valley Fall Fair. Photo submitted

Province offers support to safeguard Kootenay fruit pickers

All seasonal fruit pickers will need to take an online COVID-19 awareness course

Submitted by MLA Michelle Mungall

The province is investing in Kootenay communities to help with the annual arrival of seasonal fruit pickers and to better protect worker, employer and community health and safety with respect to COVID-19.

The B.C. government is providing funding to local governments to help set up designated campsite accommodations and ensure they meet health and safety requirements as outlined by the provincial health officer.

All seasonal fruit pickers will also need to take a new online COVID-19 awareness course through AgSafe, an independent association representing B.C. farm employer and worker organizations. The course will outline the rights and responsibilities of both employers and workers when it comes to COVID-19 and the provincial health officer’s rules and guidelines.

“Ensuring worker, community and food security is always paramount and especially during this global pandemic,” said Nelson-Creston MLA Michelle Mungall. “I’m very grateful our government is funding this important infrastructure for agricultural workers in the Kootenays. It’s good for our farming sector, it’s good for everyone.”

The province has offered initial support to help ensure the provincial health officer’s requirements are met at camping accommodation sites in Creston. The Ministry of Agriculture has provided the Creston Valley-Kootenay Lake Economic Action Partnership with $112,000 to help support these camping sites with on-site co-ordination and ensure they meet health and safety requirements.

“Seasonal fruit pickers are a crucial part of our food supply system, helping to get delicious, B.C.-grown fruit, such as cherries, apples, grapes and berries, onto our plates,” said Lana Popham, Minister of Agriculture.

“Our government is protecting these workers and local residents by making sure workers have a safe place to camp and are educated on the rules and guidelines Dr. Bonnie Henry has put in place here in British Columbia. The goal is to ensure community safety and this is an important step towards that.”

Seasonal workers will have to complete the AgSafe COVID-19 awareness course to be able to stay at these campsites. The online course is available in English and French and includes information on physical distancing, hygiene and cleaning, work pods, transportation, tools and equipment, safeguarding community and First Nations health and monitoring employee health.

To stay in a designated campsite, workers must complete the course by passing the online quiz and show proof of completion to employers.

“In B.C. the agriculture community has worked hard to meet the COVID-19 outbreak head on,” said Wendy Bennett, executive director, AgSafe. “It is our responsibility to employers and workers in B.C. to provide them with accurate information and useable resources. The COVID-19 awareness course will help keep workplace and communities safe.”

The course is available on AgSafe’s website and will be distributed by the BC Agricultural Council and BC Fruit Growers’ Association to their members. Having workers with a certificate will lessen the need for re-teaching the course content when a new person starts work.

“We are very pleased that the B.C. government has stepped forward to provide support for Canadian farm workers and their employers,” said David Geen, owner, Jealous Fruits. “All growers and workers benefit by the training and the raising of awareness around COVID-19. This is a very important public-health measure for the entire community, which also ensures food security in the province of B.C.”

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