A federal committee reviewing the Temporary Foreign Worker Program has made encouraging recommendations for Canada’s agriculture and agri-food sector.
The question now is whether the government will act on the committee’s report.
“There’s the million dollar question. Are they going to take these recommendations seriously or are they just going to say, you know what, we’re just going to leave it status quo,” said Mark Chambers, manager with Sunterra Farms, which operates hog farms in Ontario and Alberta.
“I believe they will do something, and especially for agriculture.”
The parliamentary standing committee on human resources, skills and social development and the status of persons with disabilities (HUMA) released its review of the TFW program Sept. 19. The committee made a number of suggestions to improve or amend the program, including:
• Removal of what’s known as the four and four rule, where foreigners can work in Canada for only a cumulative four years but then must leave the country for four years before returning to Canada
• That Employment and Social Development Canada re-establish the Temporary Foreign Worker Program into more specific program areas and streams for certain sectors of the economy
The Liberal government and the human resource committee began reviewing the program last spring. Complaints from business leaders, particularly representatives of the agri-food industry, prompted the review.
The former Conservative government amended the program in 2011 and 2014, introducing restrictions on the number of foreign workers that businesses could hire and limiting the amount of time that foreigners could remain in Canada.
Elimination of the four and four rule would be fantastic news for beekeepers and other employers in the agriculture sector.
Beekeepers have said the rule is ridiculous and damaging to the country’s honey industry. It can take years to train a foreign worker or for that person to become competent in English. Forcing someone to leave, after they’ve become a skilled employee, makes no sense.
“A lot of our beekeepers have staff of 10, 30 or 40 foreign workers. They (the employees) develop an expertise that makes the operation successful,” said Rod Scarlett, Canadian Honey Council executive director. “If they leave they can find employment in New Zealand or Australia, which is our competition (for honey production)…. It (the rule) allows us to train employees for our competition.”
In March, the Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council (CAHRC) reported on the acute shortage of labour within primary agriculture, noting there’s a shortfall of nearly 60,000 workers. The labour gap, or lack of Canadians willing to work in agriculture jobs, is expected to reach 114,000 by 2025.
Chambers, co-chair of the Agri-Food Labour Task Force, a group of industry representatives, said agriculture needs a program distinct from the TFWP system because of the huge need for foreign employees in the sector.
“We’ve been focusing on agriculture (and) that it needs to be taken out of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program,” Chambers said. “A stand-alone program dedicated to agriculture and agri-food … they (the HUMA committee) kind of alluded to that through some of the recommendations.”
It’s unclear when, or if, the federal government will act on the committee’s report, but Chambers is hopeful that the feds will take the necessary steps to help Canadian farmers and agri-food processors.
“These are ag and agri-food jobs that people genuinely do not want,” he said. “Canadians don’t want to work in a meat plant and Canadians don’t want to work on a farm, or work with animals…. Our first pick is always Canadians, but when you can’t find someone to do (a job), you need a solid, sustainable program that … is efficient and you don’t have to wait six months to get an employee.”
The complete HUMA report can be found at www.parl.gc.ca/HousePublications/Publication.aspx?Language=e&Mode=1&Parl=42&Ses=1&DocId=8374415.