Oilfield slowdown not creating farm worker flood

Employers discover laid-off oil workers have little interest in lower-paying agricultural jobs

Jason Hagel thought the job resumes would rush into his southern Alberta feedlot when the oil and gas industry started issuing layoff notices.

“We have had zero,” said Hagel, who runs a feedlot, cattle and grain operation near Swalwell. “It might change, but I can’t see it.”

He no longer believes laid off oilfield workers will be tempted to work on his farm and feedlot.

“I can’t see them coming to a feedlot and taking a job for $15 to $20 an hour when they were getting $25, $35 or $40 an hour,” he said.

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Hagel thinks he may get a few more nibbles for his farm job once Employment Insurance benefits run out, but he doesn’t know if those workers would last.

“I would like to hire some oil guys that can drive truck, but they’d be gone as soon as they could get another job, instead of working with cattle.”

Instead, Hagel will continue to hire temporary foreign workers. Four from Ukraine are fitting in well, he said.

Kristen Hunter of Buffalo Plains Cattle Co. in Bethune, Sask., is looking for workers with experience with livestock, equipment operation, in a feed mill, truck driving and welding. She has had little interest from laid off oilfield workers.

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“I have yet to see anybody off the oilfield,” said Hunter.

“I am not sure they are looking for jobs in our area. Sometimes our conditions are less than ideal.”

The jobs include long hours during the fall run and cold weather while checking feedlot pens during winter.

Like Hagel, Hunter is reluctant to hire former oilfield workers who will quit for better paying oilfield jobs as soon as the price of oil rises.

“I don’t want a high turnover. I want employees that will last.”

Wade Efland of Pierson, Man., has not seen oilfield employees looking for work on his farms in Manitoba and North Dakota during his busy harvest season.

“The people out there are used to big money. They won’t work for normal money. It’s a mindset that has to change,” said Feland, who pays up to $25 an hour for good workers.

Feland recently hired a worker who had been hauling recreational vehicles from the United States to Canada. The ripple effect of a slower economy forced the driver to look for a job in agriculture.

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Farming on both sides of the border also requires employees with a passport and a clean record, which limits some workers, he said.

Statistics Canada said Alberta’s unemployment rate is hovering around six percent, an increase of 1.3 percentage points from the previous year.

Sidney Greidanus said the poor oil economy has “no influence” on their honey business.

Instead, beekeepers and honey processors rely solely on temporary foreign workers, who come to Canada in spring and leave in fall.

“They work 12 hours a day, six days a week. They want to make money. It is hard to find Canadians willing to do that,” said Greidanus of High River.

Tony Kok with Agricultural Employment in Picture Butte, matches farm workers with farmers, but still has a long list of jobs waiting to be filled, despite the softening economy.

“We’re still under lots of pressure to find good farm help,” said Kok.

“They layoffs in the oilpatch are not helping our situation.”

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A week earlier, Kok placed a laid-off oilworker on a farm, but before the new worker had even made it to the farm he had been called back to the oilfield.

  • Dayton

    Greed drives need. If you can’t do the work yourself perhaps you should downsize so you can. Opens the door for more farmers.

    • Tippi

      For the most part, they are horrible employers – no overtime paid, at their beck and call and they have no trouble laying off employees when they don’t have the work for them. One of the last groups of people to still think that they can expand while the people that work for them stay the same – cheap and expendable.