(Île d’Orléans) Thursday, June 3, 10:30 am About twenty masked and distanced farm workers chat in Spanish outside a building on the Onésime Pouliot farm, in Saint-Jean-de-l’Île- from Orleans. Behind them, rows of strawberries seem to run to the river. The leaden sky does not succeed in tarnishing the beauty of the landscape. Of all the sites that will administer COVID-19 vaccines in the province today, this one has the nicest waiting room.
Posted on June 5, 2021 at 5:00 a.m.
These workers are there for the vaccine, the vaccine against COVID-19, which the CIUSSS de la Capitale-Nationale came to administer on site.
“It’s painless! », Assures Osvaldo Bejar Valdez, who has just received his first dose of Pfizer. At 29, the Michoacán resident is in his sixth season here. When he knew that the vaccine would be offered to him, he did not hesitate: in his family in Mexico, only his sister, a teacher, had access to it.
Jose Celso Cosquilla, originally from Veracruz, in turn comes out of the vaccination room. ” All good ! This is a good deed on Canada’s part! », Underlines the 37-year-old employee.
Once their 15 minutes of observation have elapsed, Osvaldo and Jose will be able to return to the fields. Called in small groups, the 95 workers to be vaccinated today will interrupt their tasks for about an hour, much less than if they had to be taken by bus to the Center de foires de Québec, about 30 minutes from the farm.
“We cannot postpone the strawberry picking for one or two days because all the workers will be brought to a vaccination center,” explains the CIUSSS director of vaccination, Patricia McKinnon. That’s why we travel. At that point, we may have a better answer. ”
The CIUSSS mobile unit already came here a month ago, when 110 foreign workers were coming out of quarantine. In May as in June, all accepted. She also vaccinated on the farm in Bellechasse, and in community rooms for companies with fewer foreign workers.
The Guatemalans who packed asparagus during our visit to the François Blouin farm in Sainte-Famille-de-l’Île-d’Orléans, were thus able to be vaccinated at the village gymnasium at the beginning of May.
“It is not longer than to be vaccinated and to wait the 15 minutes regulation before leaving”, rejoices Mr. Blouin, who is also president of the Union of the agricultural producers (UPA) of the. Île d’Orléans.
Of the 33 Guatemalans he employs, 24 have completed their quarantine. All agreed to be vaccinated.
“There are two who wanked in the handle, but they were convinced by the others,” says Mr. Blouin.
The CIUSSS mobile unit thus immunized workers from 21 agricultural enterprises.
“If there are refusals, it’s really marginal. It could be one or two workers on a farm, that’s all ”, testifies Mme McKinnon.
Nearly 700 foreign workers in the region, including those in food processing companies, have already received a first dose.
Foreign workers are not only essential, they also often live 8 or 10 per house. “It is sure that if there is a case, the whole household will have it”, underlines Mme McKinnon.
For Guy Pouliot, the idea that a household of 10 workers could contaminate two others at the beginning of July, when there are 3,000 boxes of strawberries to be taken out per day, is a nightmare.
If I have to have 30 guys doing nothing in quarantine, it’s financial disaster!
Guy Pouliot, co-owner of the Onésime Pouliot farm
The confinement would not be funnier for the workers, predicts Mr. Blouin. “They could no longer go to town to do their groceries,” says the man who lends them cars to go shopping.
This disaster scenario is not the fruit of their imagination. Agricultural regions experienced outbreaks among foreign workers last year, particularly in Montérégie, at Vegpro, and Chaudière-Appalaches. In Ontario, three Mexicans have died after contracting COVID-19.
The “worrying” situation of foreign workers
The National Institute of Public Health of Quebec (INSPQ), which began to identify infections among foreign workers in the province this spring, called their situation “worrying”.
According to its most recent report, which covers the week of May 16-22, 65 foreign workers were infected after quarantine, when they had already started working. Two unnamed agricultural productions are among the five affected companies.
Quebec followed suit with Ontario this week, and is now offering the vaccine at the airport to agricultural workers arriving by charter flight. Almost all Mexicans and Guatemalans who arrived this week (505 out of 517) have agreed to be vaccinated at Montreal-Trudeau, indicates the Foundation for companies recruiting foreign agricultural labor.
Several other regions, including Montérégie and Chaudière-Appalaches, have also targeted foreign workers in their territory, by going to workplaces, reserving time blocks for them at the vaccination center or encouraging them to make an appointment. with documentation in Spanish and English.
The eight members of the CIUSSS de la Capitale-Nationale mobile unit are not on their last visit to Île d’Orléans. Other workers are still in quarantine and then they will have to come back for the second doses.
Between 15,000 and 16,000 foreign workers are expected to lend a hand to agriculture and agri-food businesses in the province this year. On Monday, May 31, 10,997 of them had already arrived, indicates the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food of Quebec (MAPAQ).