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N.B. to launch new website for 600 positions left vacant without temporary foreign workers

New Brunswick officials are set to provide an update on COVID-19 in the province.

New Brunswick will launch a website that will pair workers with vacant positions that are normally filled by temporary foreign workers.

The provincial government announced earlier this week that it will restrict the entrance of temporary foreign workers in order to prevent a potential coronavirus outbreak.

The website will look to fill the 600 positions that New Brunswick is aware of at this time, said Premier Blaine Higgs.

READ MORE: N.B. Green leader calls for exemptions for temporary foreign workers for farms

Industries that rely on temporary workers to function, including the seafood and agricultural sectors, have criticized the government’s decision.

Rebeka Frazer Chiasson, president of the National Farmers Union in New Brunswick, told the Canadian Press on Wednesday that skilled labour is not easily replaced, and many farmers will reduce their risk by limiting the amount they plant.

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Cape Bald Packers, a processing plant in southeastern New Brunswick, would have about 475 workers in a typical year; half of whom would be temporary foreign workers, a spokesperson said.

Nat Richard, the plant’s corporate affairs manager, told Global News they fully support and agree with the premier prioritizing health of New Brunswickers by restricting entry.

“That’s paramount, none of us are suggesting that we should make any compromises on that,” he said.

“Our only point is, I believe we can do that, we can bring in these workers, follow very strict protocols, the mandatory quarantines are a given.”

But while Higgs said approximately 600 positions need to be filled in both the seafood and agricultural sectors, Cape Bald Packers is trying to fill 100 jobs, Richard said.

“This ban will literally mean a significant reduced capacity for the whole lobster processing industry,” he said. “There’s even some plants that suggested they may not open this spring.”

Dr. Jennifer Russell, the province’s chief medical officer of health, said while things are going well in the province right now, we need to try to keep it that way.

“Right now, the risk for New Brunswickers, in terms of having an increased number of COVID-19 cases, is from imported cases from outside the province,” Russell said.

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Seafood processing industry calls out Higgs for temporary foreign workers decision
Seafood processing industry calls out Higgs for temporary foreign workers decision

The decision is making their business more difficult, Richard said.

“Two weeks ago, we described the [COVID-19] circumstances in our industry as being a perfect storm–this was before this decision,” he said. “I mean we’re facing, probably the most uncertainty that we’ve ever experienced in our industry, in its history.”

He wants the province’s decision to be reversed, but Higgs said it will only be “business as normal” when there’s no longer a health risk in the province.

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“But I don’t see that happening anytime soon,” Higgs said.

Despite the criticism, Higgs demurred when asked whether the industries that need temporary foreign workers will be provided with an exemption to the province’s ban.

“We’re working with each business owner in relation to their individual needs,” he said.

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No new cases of COVID-19

As of Thursday, New Brunswick has experienced 12 straight days of no new reported cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Russell said the number of cases detected in New Brunswick remains at 118, with only four cases remaining active.

There are no New Brunswickers in hospital and no deaths have been recorded in the province.

Russell said the province is not looking to reopen schools until at least September but stressed that the lack of cases is not a reason to be complacent.

Industries concerned over New Brunswick’s decisions to keep temporary foreign workers away
Industries concerned over New Brunswick’s decisions to keep temporary foreign workers away

She said New Brunswickers need to ease into a new version of normal until a vaccine is developed.

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“We do have to get used to seeing people wearing masks when they go shopping that has to be seen as normal,” Russel said

Russell admitted that the province may see outbreaks of COVID-19 in the future but said it is ready to deal with them.

“The time we have been given to do this preparation has been very valuable,” she said.

Job protections now in effect

Trevor Holder, New Brunswick’s minister of post-secondary education, training and labour, announced more details on Thursday about a series of worker protections that were introduced in the latest brief sitting of the province’s legislature.

The measures will protect employees when they are unable to work if they are:

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  • Acting in accordance with New Brunswick’s Public Health Act
  • Under investigation for a suspected case of COVID-19
  • Under direction to self-isolate by medical professionals or the government of New Brunswick
  • At risk of exposing others to COVID-19
  • Taking time off to take care of someone as a result of COVID-19 restrictions
  • Directly affected by travel restrictions

READ MORE: How New Brunswick’s four-step plan to recover from COVID-19 works

Holder said the protections are now in force and are retroactive to March 12, adding that employers cannot fire anyone if they are unable to work as a result of those conditions.

However, Holder said that employers are not required to pay their employees if they go on leave.

Holder said that the protections will allow workers to have a job to go back to.

He said programs from the federal and provincial governments will assist those that are on COVID-19 related leave.

Employees must request emergency leave from their employer in writing as soon as possible.

The request must include the reason for the leave, the anticipated start date and the duration of the leave.

State of emergency extended

The province also extended its state of emergency on Thursday for another two weeks.

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Under the revised order, all licences, registrations, certificates and permits issued under provincial laws that were valid as of March 16 have been extended to June 30.

A new paragraph has also been added under the order, authorizing municipal councils and council committees to hold more meetings electronically.

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

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To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.