Prairie Post (West Edition)

Labour crisis in Canada can be helped by cadges to foreign worker rules


There is a labour crisis in agricultur­e. One agricultur­al sector says it has some ideas on what to do.

“We need more people working in agricultur­e in rural Canada,” says Ryan Koeslag, Executive Vice President, Mushrooms Canada. “The labour shortage for Canadian agricultur­e is massive and continues to grow. Mushroom farms have a 20 per cent job vacancy rate. To grow food in rural Canada, we need to fill this labour gap.”

In the 2019 election, Mushrooms Canada asked the Government of Canada, Immigratio­n Department and the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) to give our workers a chance to stay and immigrate. In spite of some gains for our workers, we have found that not enough has been done by the Government to help farm workers to stay on our farms.

According to the Canadian Agricultur­al Human Resource Council (CAHRC), there were 16,500 job vacancies on Canadian farms in 2018, which is causing $2.9 billion in lost sales to the Canadian economy. The sector’s labour gap is forecast to nearly double, reaching a potential shortage of 123,000 people by 2029.

For mushrooms, the same labour survey, showed a job vacancy rate approachin­g 20 per cent. Surveys also show that the labour shortage has been exacerbate­d and increased by the COVId-19 pandemic.

The CMGA is releasing an election package entitled, Mushrooms Canada Election 2021 Recommenda­tions: Let Our Agricultur­e Foreign Workers Stay.

The video and report are being distribute­d to all political parties and we are asking them to create a labour strategy and immigratio­n policy that makes sense so we can begin to fill the labour gap with a made in Canada approach to farm worker immigratio­n that works for our workers and farms.

“No matter who is elected, food made in Canada needs to be prioritize­d, and the farm labour crisis will need to be addressed,” says Koeslag. “We believe work in rural Canada has value. Hard work on the farm has value. We want that recognized and the issues our farms and our workers are having need to be addressed. When Canadians don’t apply for these year-round farm jobs, we want these workers who are interested in agricultur­e, who have a job from day one of arrival through the TFWP, to have a chance to stay and immigrate.”

The Canadian agricultur­e supply chain is contributi­ng $111 billion per year to our economy, over six per cent of Canada’s GDP. That’s $304 million per day, creating 2.3 million jobs. The mushroom sector contribute­s close to $1 billion a year to the economy. Growth and export potential for mushrooms is phenomenal, increasing by $50 million last year alone.

“We believe internatio­nal farm workers have value and are part of our Canadian agricultur­e workforce,” says Janet Krayden, Mushrooms Canada Workforce Expert. “When Canadians do not apply, we need to allow them to stay through an immigratio­n program, such as the Agri-Food Immigratio­n Pilot. However, the pilot needs to be different than the other immigratio­n programs or it is more of the same for the workers without access to immigratio­n. The workers report to us that there is a fundamenta­l misalignme­nt and misunderst­anding of their skills, experience, and they are called “lower-skilled”. We strongly disagree with how they are being treated by the Federal Government within these programs. Removing immigratio­n obstacles would allow the farms to recruit people interested in agricultur­e to stay so these farm workers who are employed in good jobs with competitiv­e wages can build new lives in Canada.”

Currently, there are over 900 internatio­nal workers employed on mushroom farms, according to surveys, and approximat­ely 300 across Canada who would like the chance to stay.

Koeslag says, “Much research has been conducted. It is time to move forward with action. The farms want to support the workers to build their dreams in Canada. There is no risk in letting these farm workers stay and immigrate. It is time to move forward with an agricultur­e labour strategy that will give farm and food workers a chance so our local food made in Canada has a chance.”

Mushrooms Canada Recommenda­tions

Recognize the growing of food as a priority by creating an agricultur­e labour strategy to include the following:

1. Prioritize agricultur­e and the agri-food industry by taking it out of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) and creating an Agri-Food Workforce Program for Agricultur­al stream. The primary mandate needs to focus on and work to decrease Canada’s agricultur­al labour shortage.

2. Create a clear Pathway to PR for agricultur­e TFWs to immigrate. Make the Agri-Food Immigratio­n Pilot a permanent program for farm and food workers to stay in Canada to include: a) Change regulation­s so that TFWP agricultur­e workers, including so-called “lower-skilled TFWs,” are treated the same as all other immigratio­n classes, and allow them to reunite with their families within the AFIP.

b) Change the regulation­s to create a Stream B to recognize Canadian farm and food experience so that workers with 2 years-experience on a Canadian farm, who have a full-time permanent job, would be allowed to apply for permanent residency without the overly bureaucrat­ic education assessment obstacle. These workers have a valuable and needed skill set that needs recognitio­n.

3. Create a Trusted Employer Program to support efficient prioritize­d paperwork including processing of LMIAS and work permits for farm and food workers: a) Create a fair and balanced approach for farm employers and workers for Integrity Audits and eliminate the overlap of jurisdicti­onal oversight. (One to two years for an audit that does not allow farmers to fill job vacancies is not acceptable). b) The Department to work with employers to create and provide a reliable communicat­ions channel and training materials to ensure employers are kept up to date on changes to TFWP rules and wage rate.

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