TORONTO – For the past 33 years, Chanderbose Mahathir has spent six months in Canada, working on a farm in Trinidad and Tobago to earn a living for himself and his family.
Six months is hard work that most Canadians do not want to do. She is six months away from her children and grandchildren.
This year is different.
“Normally we come in April and leave in October, but we don’t know when we will go home this year,” Mahathir told CTV News on Monday.
The harvest season is long over, which means there is no longer any reason for Mahathir to stay in Canada – in fact, based on his employment contract, he should already be out of the country.
But as has happened to many this year, Mahathir’s life has been marred by the COVID-19 epidemic. The islands of Trinidad and Tobago have imposed strict travel restrictions to try to reduce the spread of the corona virus novel, including banning all commercial flights.
The government has arranged some return flights, although their word has not always deceived private farms and workers.
It is starting to change. Mahathir learned on Tuesday that the flight had been booked for December 28th. Now, there is a new difficulty: getting the required negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of departure during the Christmas holidays.
“I can’t enjoy Christmas, they’re sitting in a punkhouse here, they’s not home with family,” Ray Ferry told CDV News on Monday.
Ferry Ont, co-owner of a farm near Collingwood. There are the long-running farms of Mahathir and the five Trinidadians. This year, the group’s regular April visit was delayed due to problems leaving Trinidad and Tobago during the epidemics. When they finally arrived in Canada in July, they had to be isolated two weeks before they could leave the fields.
The federal government allows workers trapped in this situation to apply for an extended open work permit at no cost. This will allow them to apply for employment insurance – which provides them with income that they do not have now that the harvest is over – and access health care. This also gives them extra options when looking for work outside the farm, although there are some potential options if there is a lack of transportation.
Four of the six workers on Ferry’s farm, including Mahathir, hope to return home before 2021 and spend time with their families. All four were booked on a December 28 return flight.
“We don’t … EI we don’t want to renew our visas. We want to go home,” Mahathir said.
“I miss everything in life.”
In the midst of the epidemic, there is not much life to speak for workers. On Ferry’s farm, they share a punkhouse – and distractions like walking, cooking and watching TV only last so long.
“We did nothing – we’re here, we’re sitting,” Ronald Septzer, who has nine summer experiences on the farm, told CDV News on Monday.
Even if a last-minute flight is arranged and the word is deceived to the workers or their employers, there is another problem: they must have a negative COVID-19 test result 72 hours before departure.
Ont., Diane French, who owns a farm near Shelburn, is concerned about what new barriers could be created next year and what that means for the future of such farms.
His main crop is rhubarb, which grows in winter. When harvest time rolled on in the absence of Trinidadian workers in the country in April, he had to add local students with no agricultural experience. Three-quarters of this year’s crops never let it out of the ground.
“If we can’t get these workers from Trinidad or any other country, we can sell the farm too. We can’t get Canadian workers,” he told CTV News on Monday.
“We are farmers, we say ‘OK, next year will be better’ … but how many more can we say in the coming years?”
About 400 migrant workers from Trinidad and Tobago in Canada live on farms in Ontario and Alberta, even after being expected to return home. Although the plane was full on December 28, 260 of them will still be stranded in Canada.
Isolation is difficult. The cold weather is fresh and unexpected. With just a few more days to go with Christmas, frustration and anger develop.
“I’m not home with my wife, I’m not home with my son,” Septzer said.
“Our government has really abandoned us.”
Their enthusiasm is shared by their employers, who say they care about the mental health of workers they know, in some cases, for decades.
“They have a place to live, warm clothes, food – but as far as their mental well-being is concerned, we can’t help them there. They are suffering,” Ferry said.