Temporary foreign worker program gets reprieve

Employers who have been in the program the longest are being exempted from further 
reductions in the proportion of their workforce that aren’t citizens

Meat, fruit and vegetable processors are welcoming a recent announcement that reductions in the temporary foreign workers programs have been frozen for now.

Employment Minister MaryAnn Mihychuk recently said employers registered in the Temporary Foreign Worker Programs (TFWP) prior to June 2014 will be able to continue to use up to 20 per cent non-citizens in their workforce — if they can’t find Canadians to fill the jobs.

Employers who hired foreign workers after June 2014 will still have to reduce their foreign workforce to 10 per cent, under rules brought in by the former Harper government.

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Workers bone and cut beef at a meat packing plant in Toronto, May 22, 2003. Work continues at the plant despite several countries placing a temporary ban on Canadian beef after a case of Mad Cow disease was discovered on an Alberta farm.

“While very far from offering a solution to the widespread and chronic labour shortage that exists in the meat industry, most particularly in rural meat- packing establishments, the minister’s announcement will be of some assistance to those establishments in which foreign-origin workers today constitute between 10 and 20 per cent of the total number of workers,” said Ron Davidson, a spokesperson for the Canadian Meat Council.

As a result, the companies won’t have to further cut purchases from farmers or reduce exports because of additional worker shortfall, he added.

“The meat industry welcomes every reconsideration of the severe constraints that were imposed on access to labour in 2014,” he said. “All of these consequences would have resulted from the previously scheduled government-imposed requirement to slash the workforce in these establishments by an additional 10 per cent.”

Meanwhile Trevor Eggleton, spokesperson for the Canadian Horticulture Council, said the association’s labour committee believes fruit and vegetable processors need special consideration when it comes to foreign workers.

“In some cases, it has not been possible to source an adequate number of reliable Canadian workers to perform seasonal work,” he said. “These same jobs make it possible for Canadians to work in longer full-time, permanent positions involving storing, packing or processing of produce and value-added products.”

Mihychuk called her action a prudent step while the government works on a plan it will announce later this year to address the problems with the program.

“We want to ensure that the rights of those working through the program are protected, that it is not undermining job opportunities for Canadians and that there is a pathway to permanent residency for eligible applicants,” she said.

“Every employer applying to the TFWP will still need to meet all program requirements, including making efforts to ensure that Canadians and permanent residents have first access to available jobs.”

Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay recently told the Senate that he was working “as hard as I can with the minister responsible to make sure that we have the temporary foreign workers we need. It would be unfortunate if we had the product and the facilities but do not have the workers and the workers are available. That’s hard to swallow.”

He went on to say he is confident the government will address the issues and added that despite the problems, the program meets a real need for the industry.

He said he was well aware of problems in Western Canada “where in fact there are not enough temporary foreign workers in order to process meat in some meat plants.”

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