Mush­room grow­ers fight for work­ers

In­dus­try is urg­ing Ot­tawa to grant per­ma­nent res­i­dency to mi­grant farm­work­ers

Toronto Star - - CANADA - NICHOLAS KE­UNG IM­MI­GRA­TION RE­PORTER

Canada’s mush­room grow­ers are urg­ing Ot­tawa to grant per­ma­nent res­i­dency to 870 mi­grant farm­work­ers to help the $1-bil­lion in­dus­try fill cur­rent job va­can­cies and sus­tain growth.

With­out a sta­ble, skilled labour pool of mi­grant work­ers, the sec­tor, which em­ploys 4,330 peo­ple, could be in jeop­ardy, warned a re­port re­leased Mon­day by Mush­rooms Canada.

“Mush­room farms pro­vide per­ma­nent, year-round jobs with a qual­ity liv­ing wage in ru­ral Canada and would like to wel­come th­ese skilled work­ers to Canada, so they have the op­tion of stay­ing and buy­ing homes and build­ing a life here as well,” said Ge­orge Gra­ham, pres­i­dent of Mush­rooms Canada, whose mem­bers pro­duce 134 tons of mush­rooms a year.

“Th­ese work­ers are in­ter­ested in work­ing on farms and stay­ing on farms. This is their dream job and we are ful­fill­ing th­ese work­ers’ dreams. They are our val­ued em­ploy­ees and part of the com­mu­nity, and we sup­port and help them in­te­grate in the lo­cal ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties.”

The mush­room in­dus­try’s plea fol­lows a re­cent Toronto Star se­ries, The Hands that Pick Your Food, which found that Canada has been in­creas­ing its reliance on mi­grant work­ers in the agri-food sec­tor and that the lack of ac­cess to per­ma­nent res­i­dency can ex­pose work­ers to abu­sive and ex­ploita­tive work­ing con­di­tions.

Ac­cord­ing to the Mush­rooms Canada re­port, the sec­tor, with 194 farms across the coun­try, has a job va­cancy rate of close to 9.7 per cent and mi- grant work­ers ac­count for more than a quar­ter of the work­force. The re­port is based on re­search by the Cana­dian Agri­cul­tural Hu­man Re­source Coun­cil, a na­tional group that ad­dresses labour chal­lenges of the sec­tor.

Half of Canada’s mush­room pro­duc­tion is based in On­tario, con­cen­trated in Moose Creek, Stoney Creek, Hamil­ton, Burlington, Os­goode, Ash­burn, Leam­ing­ton, Kingsville and Welling­ton.

The United States and Ja­pan are Cana­dian mush­room grow­ers’ two top ex­port mar­kets. Last year alone, Cana­dian mush­room ex­ports to the U.S. were val­ued at $194 mil­lion.

Mi­grant work­ers’ ac­cess to per­ma­nent res­i­dence is ex­tremely lim­ited be­cause Canada’s im­mi­gra­tion pro­gram se­lects prospec­tive im­mi­grants based on univer­sity ed­u­ca­tion and pro­fes­sional des­ig­na­tions — qual­i­fi­ca­tions farm­work­ers lack.

A re­port by Statis­tics Canada this year found the rate of tran­si­tion to per­ma­nent res­i­dence for sea­sonal agri­cul­tural work­ers was a dis­mal 3 per cent, com­pared to the av­er­age 21 per cent con­ver­sion rate among mi­grant work­ers over­all.

Mush­rooms Canada said the sec­tor is uniquely sit­u­ated in its use of for­eign work­ers be­cause mush­room farms run through­out the year and must har­vest daily to avoid spoilage, mak­ing the de­mand for full-time work­ers con­stant.

The in­dus­try said mush­room farm jobs re­quire highly de­vel­oped skills in­clud­ing dex­ter­ity, speed and judg­ment re­gard­ing qual­ity that are ac­quired through on-the-job train­ing.

“There is no tech­nol­ogy avail­able to re­place the hu­man hand in mush­room har­vest­ing,” said the 48-page re­port. “It takes three to12 months to train an en­try level har­vester to be­come pro­fi­cient in this role.”

How­ever, un­der the cur­rent re­volv­ing-door mi­grant farm­worker pro­gram, em­ploy­ers must ap­ply to Ser­vice Canada for labour mar­ket im­pact as­sess­ments for their for­eign work­ers once every two years to re­new their work sta­tus.

Each time, em­ploy­ers must advertise the jobs and file an ap­pli­ca­tion. Un­der the con­tract obli­ga­tions of the mi­grant farm­worker pro­gram, they must also sub­si­dize hous­ing, in­sur­ance, air­fare and other trans­porta­tion costs for the work­ers in most cir­cum­stances.

The re­port es­ti­mated it costs em­ploy­ers $8,470 to hire one mi­grant farm­worker un­der the tem­po­rary for­eign worker pro­gram and said eas­ier ac­cess to per­ma­nent res­i­dency for work­ers would ben­e­fit the sec­tor, mi­grants and ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties. Im­mi­gra­tion Min­is­ter Ahmed Hussen has said he fears mi­grant farm­work­ers would not con­tinue work­ing in the agri­cul­tural sec­tor af­ter they be­came per­ma­nent res­i­dents.

COUR­TESY CANA­DIAN AGRI­CUL­TURAL HU­MAN RE­SOURCE COUCIL

With­out mi­grant work­ers, the in­dus­try may be in jeop­ardy, a re­port warns.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.