No stereotyping with COVID issues: Lincoln CAO

By Mike Williscraft

Like with many topics relating to COVID-19, Lincoln’s CAO is hoping people take the time to get facts before forming an opinion on issues relating to migrant workers.

Migrant workers became a hot button issue in Niagara earlier this month when a greenhouse operation in St. Catharines had 60 workers test positive for COVID-19.

First and foremost, CAO Mike Kirkopoulos confirmed none of the migrant workers arrived with the virus. All had been in good health and went through the recommended 14-day quarantine.

As well, most local greenhouses were already using personal protection equipment (PPE) for all their staff, both indoors and out.

“Both the Ontario Craft Wineries Association (OCW) and Greenhouse Growers Alliance of Lincoln (GGAL) indicated that they are actively working on best practices guidelines and safe operating procedures for their employees on the farms,” said Kirkopoulos.

“While not mandatory by provincial law, many greenhouse growers have made the wearing of PPE by staff mandatory both inside the office space and on the floors of the greenhouses. I suspect, given the news coming out of Pioneer (where the outbreak arose), more greenhouses will make it mandatory now for all employees – both domestic and foreign workers – to wear PPE.”

In Lincoln, Kirkopoulos said he and Paul Di Ianni, economic development officer, launched a series of proactive calls to those in the greenhouse sector.

“The calls were initiated by the Town as a proactive step in seeing how safe operating procedures were being put in place at vineyards and greenhouses in our community, especially in light of the news in St. Catharines and the outbreak we saw in Norfolk County at a local farm there,” said Di Ianni.

“Specifically around the Foreign Temporary Workers, greenhouse operators such as Freeman Herbs and Hendriks are spacing out their foreign workers to ensure physical distancing as much as possible.”

As well, Kirkopoulos said additional cleaning practices were stepped up.

“Their housing facilities are being sanitized daily, masks are being worn and their travel in the community is being minimized. It should be noted that all of this is happening above and beyond the recommendations set forth by the federal and provincial governments,” he noted.

“Mandatory 14-day waiting periods for new arrivals are still happening. It should be pointed out that the outbreak at Pioneer and in Norfolk County was a result of locally acquired infections, not something that came from oversees.”

Lincoln has enlisted the services of Hugh Fraser – on behalf of the GGAL and the Town.

“Hugh will be working on a communication piece to all members of the Greenhouse Growers Alliance to ensure that we are sharing best practice guidelines and reminding them of the offer from the Town for face shields,” said Kirkopoulos.

“Vineyards are operating under the similar procedures and we will be working with Richard Linley from the OCW to continue to spread our message around safety and the face shields initiative.”

“I think now, more than ever, with what is going on around us both in terms of COVID-19 and generally with respect to acceptance – race relations and diversity – it is important we deal with fact versus what, at times, may be a misinformation or a stereotype around our migrant worker program. It is essential.”

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