Pilot project to ease worker shortages in the agrifood sector to be launched


Meat processors and mushroom producers are at the front of the line.

Ottawa—After years of presentations to governments on the negative economic repercussions of worker shortages, the agrifood sector is finally in line for some badly-needed assistance.

Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen said that up to 2,750 workers and their families could be admitted under a new three-year economic immigration pilot the federal government will launch in 2020.

While that number will barely put a dent in the total number of job vacancies in the agrifood sector, it is a promising first step, said the Canadian Meat Council (CMC), Mushrooms Canada and the Canadian Federation of Agriculture. Primary agriculture has currently 16,500 job openings with the number expected to at least double. The processing sector has even more.

Rodger Cuzner, Parliamentary Secretary for Employment, summed up the announcement well. “Today we are delivering on something that employers, unions, and migrant workers have been calling on government to do for over a decade – temporary foreign workers who come to this country and work hard filling permanent jobs should have a fair and reasonable chance to become a Canadian regardless of the job they are filling.”

CMC President Chris White said, “With more than 1,700 empty butcher workstations across the country among our members, this pilot will allow our members to gain access to temporary foreign workers who are desperately needed to fill the labour gap and more importantly, allow them to transition to permanent resident status.

“CMC has been advocating for almost a decade the need for government to create a program that would help the sector to deal with the high employment shortage,” he said. The existing Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) doesn’t work. “There’s nothing temporary about our need for a workforce.”

Ryan Koeslag, Executive VP, Canadian Mushroom Growers Association, said “We can finally say agriculture is officially part of Canada’s immigration plan.”

Canadian mushroom farms have a 19.3 per cent job vacancy rate, he said. The lack of workers in 2018 forced mushroom growers to throw out 23 per cent of their crops, worth $43 million. Growth and export potential for mushrooms is phenomenal increasing by $50 million last year alone.

CFA President Mary Robinson said the pilot is further recognition of the importance of the agrifood sector which “has been identified as a sector with a huge potential growth from studies like the Barton Report and the Agri-Food Economic Strategy Table. But this growth will not be achieved if we cannot meet our labour demands.

“Pilots such as this show the government is recognizing the problem and taking real steps to address it. Canadian agriculture is a foundational industry, and any growth that it experiences moves up the value chain, creating further growth in related industries such as transportation and food processing.

“That’s why we are pleased to see a comprehensive pilot addressing the needs of both primary agriculture and the Canadian food processing industry,” she said. “With access to skilled labour when we need it, Canadian agriculture can meet its potential and flourish.”

The pilot “demonstrates a clear recognition of the economic importance of rural Canada and the enabling role that immigration can play in leveraging its immense potential for inclusive growth and prosperity, through key sectors like Canadian agriculture,” she said.

Now that the government made critical changes in both immigration policy and the TFWP, CFA will watch how the pilot responds “to latent demand for permanent residency throughout the sector, recognizing that this pilot is a first step that will need to evolve as farmers realize these new opportunities and look to address year-round vacancies through this exciting new pathway to permanent residency.”

Hussen said the pilot will seek to attract experienced, non-seasonal workers who can economically establish in Canada. It will focus on attracting retail butchers, industrial butchers, food processing labourers, harvesting labourers, general farm workers, and farm supervisors and specialized livestock workers.

Last fall, the Agrifood Economic Strategy Table report highlighted the need to address the immediate labour shortages facing the sector and to modernize Canada’s immigration and temporary foreign worker programs to access the global labour force across all skill levels.

Alex Binkley is a freelance journalist and writes for domestic and international publications about agriculture, food and transportation issues. He’s also the author of two science fiction novels with more in the works.
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Categorised in: