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  • Ken Forth

F.A.R.M.S. continues battle against unprecedented challenges

Ken Forth

Foreign Agricultural Resource Management Services (F.A.R.M.S) President Ken Forth can confirm the organization has never seen anything like the ongoing challenges COVID-19 presents to its mandate of facilitating foreign migrant workers’ safe and productive arrival into Canada, and a similar return home.

“No,” he responded simply, a single word encompassing an unprecedented year of struggle, frustration and to be fair, success against all odds.

General Manager Sue Williams has had one day off in recent memory Forth expanded, that being Christmas.

“Every other day it has been a crap show. On and on and on.”

In very broad terms, the global pandemic delayed migrant workers’ arrival here, ultimately limited numbers, and for Trinidadian workers, significantly delayed their return. Some have elected to make the best of the situation and remain in Canada, while others are gradually returning home, a flow slowed by the requirement for a negative COVID-19 test prior to embarking, and limited space for a subsequent in-country quarantining period.

“By the end of this month, anybody who wanted to go home should be able to go home,” said Forth. As that effort continues a new challenge arising is the Canadian government’s requirement for all migrant workers entering Canada, to have a negative COVID test 72 hours prior to that entrance. “It was announced New Year’s Eve,” said Forth.

He fully supports the concept, however is deeply concerned about the logistical challenges its abrupt implementation represents.

In the first place, the announcement was unexpected, putting workers, their home countries, airlines and the Canadian employers expecting their arrival in a shared bind.

“No one was informed of it,” said Forth of what he believes was in part a reactionary measure responding to prominent Canadian citizens’ decision to travel, and the resultant public outcry.

If the announcement had been made December 15th, for example says Forth, there would have been more time to adjust to its requirements.

“But not with no days notice,” he said, noting the countries affected are definitely trying to find a solution. “It takes a lot of time and effort.”

Secondly, Forth sees 96 hours as a far more realistic timeframe, given for example the amount of travel time some Mexican workers face before arriving at an airport, and secondly, the challenge for affected nations to meet a standard first-world Canada itself is struggling to hit. In Forth’s personal experience, a kindergarten and a Grade 2 student in his family were potentially exposed to COVID, and required a negative test before being allowed to return to school. Happily, both tested negative, however it took ‘four or five days’ for results to be confirmed. “How can we expect developing nations to live up to that when we can’t even come up with a test result in 72 hours?”

Mexico and Jamaica are certainly rising to the challenge credits Forth.

“They are trying to put a process in place.” However the unexpected announcement and its timing has complicated an already involved procedure.

“We are losing workers,” said Forth. “That is where we are at,” he continued. “This has the potential of affecting the food supply.”

Again, Forth understands and supports the validity of requiring a negative COVID test, however has been approaching government with the suggestion a 96-hour negative result window is a fairer and more viable option. “We haven’t heard back just yet.”

F.A.R.M.S. does not possess a crystal ball capable of predicting this situation’s outcome. For that matter, as Forth points out, if experience over the past 12 months has taught anyone anything it’s that any predictions will be clouded by COVID uncertainty.

“Who knows what is going to happen next?”

One thing Forth can predict with full confidence however is that F.A.R.M.S. will be doing its level best to not only meet the unprecedented, unforeseen and unidentified but fully anticipated challenges 2021 is sure to bring, but continue to develop solutions on behalf of its employers and workers.

“Every day we are on the phone trying to make this happen - and the countries are bending over backwards to help.” 

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