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Coronavirus: Quebec calls on students, laid-off workers to work in local agriculture

Coronavirus outbreak: Quebec announces $45M in funding to help recruit farm workers
WATCH: Quebec officials make funding announcement for province's agriculture sector

The Quebec government announced it will spend $45 million to recruit and support Quebecers to go help farmers with fieldwork this harvest season amid the COVID-19 crisis.

Premier François Legault made the funding announcement on Friday, saying Quebec is working to become more autonomous in its food production and attempt to rely less on foreign imports.

Legault called on Quebecers who have been laid-off, students and anyone with an interest in helping the province’s farmers.

He said that in addition to the hourly wage paid to workers by the farmer, the government will give each worker an extra $100 per week as an incentive, so long as they work a minimum of 25 hours per week.

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Quebec’s Labour Minister Jean Boulet and Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Minister André Lamontagne said the province’s farmers have been asking for help since the onset of the COVID-19 crisis.

Because of travel restrictions, the agriculture industry says it will not be able to rely on the yearly influx of temporary foreign workers, mostly from Latin America, that come work in Quebec for the harvest season — which runs from April to October.

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In an effort to not delay Quebec’s farming production, the government is looking to recruit 8,500 locals to work on the farms.

Of the $45 million Quebec will spend, the government said $42.6 million will go towards the $100 weekly premium for workers, $2 million will go towards helping agriculture companies transport workers to the fields, and $200,000 will go toward hiring people to train the new workers.

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Quebec’s harvest season runs for 34 weeks, from April 15 to October 31, Boulet said.

Officials acknowledged that agricultural work is not easy — it’s tough manual labour — but said it could be a great experience and good way to contribute to the province during this difficult economic time. “It’s about solidarity,” Boulet said.

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Legault also added that social distancing by two metres is possible in the while working in the fields.

The government said all those interested can visit this website to sign up.

— With files from The Canadian Press

Coronavirus around the world: April 17, 2020
Coronavirus around the world: April 17, 2020