Temporary foreign worker changes worry meat packers

Canada’s meat processing industry is “very concerned” about changes made to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, says Ron Davidson of the Canadian Meat Council.

The federal government unveiled a number of reforms to the program June 20, including a 10 percent cap on the proportion of a workforce that can be low-wage temporary foreign workers.

“The cap will significantly restrict access to the TFWP, while ensuring that Canadians are always considered first for available jobs, reducing employer reliance on the program and increasing wages offered to Canadians,” the government said in a news release.”

Davidson, director of international trade, government and media relations for the meat council, said it could be challenging for some processors to get under the 10 percent cap because the industry cannot convince Canadians to work at slaughter plants.

“We have tried to recruit Canadians, extensively and constantly. If you go on the job bank, eight CMC members have job opportunities and we aren’t getting Canadians to do these jobs,” he said.

“It’s particularly a problem for the rural areas, where the plants are located…. We don’t know more what we can do to recruit Canadians. That’s the problem. The whole industry is trying to do it, and we just aren’t getting people to (work).”

Employment and social development minister Jason Kenney said the changes are necessary to ensure Canadians are “first in line for available jobs.”

Davidson said the meat industry supports a crackdown on employers who abuse the program, but the proposed changes could affect capacity and production at Canadian meat packing plants.

“We do have plants that are over the 30 percent (limit). Not many but there are some,” he said.

“The changes announced were clearly substantial and significant for the meat industry. We are concerned and we’re trying to organize a meeting (with the government) to get a bit more clarification on how some of these rules are being interpreted.”

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The federal government said the program changes, including the cap, fee increases and reduction in the period a foreign worker can remain in Canada, do not apply to primary agriculture. Feedlot operations are included in the exemption.

Davidson said the meat industry also asked the government for an exemption.

“Feeders did get the extension (exemption), so they’re now part of primary agriculture,” he said.

“In our meetings (with government), we had suggested this was a value chain problem for the livestock and meat industry…. If the plants aren’t able to run at capacity … it has an impact right through the whole value chain.”

Kenney and many critics of the TFW program have said some companies are too dependent on foreign workers, and employers should raise wages to attract more Canadians.

Claude Vielfaure, executive vice-president of Hylife, which produces 1.4 million pigs a year and operates a pork processing plant in Neepawa, Man., said Canada’s pork industry has to compete globally and pay wages appropriate to the region and sector.

Davidson said Canadian meat processors already pay higher wages than U.S. packers.

“We have companies that operate on both sides of the border,” he said.

“(Companies) have an option whether (they) process your meat in Canada or the United States.”

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The federal government promised to reform the Temporary Foreign Worker Program following alleged abuses by fast food restaurants. Three McDonald’s restaurants in British Columbia allegedly gave more shifts to foreign workers, while a restaurant in Weyburn, Sask., fired long-time waitresses to hire foreign labour.


On June 20, the government introduced changes to the program, including:

• Employers with 10 or more employees are capped at 10 percent of the proportion of their workforce that can be temporary foreign workers.

• Companies that are above the 10 percent cap will be immediately limited to 30 percent or frozen at their current level, whatever is lower.

• During a transition period, the cap will be lowered to 20 percent July 1, 2015, and reduced to 10 percent July 1, 2016.

• The cumulative period during which low wage temporary foreign workers can remain in Canada will be reduced from two years to one.

• Companies will have to provide more information, such as the number of Canadians that applied for a particular job, and explain why applicants weren’t hired before they can hire a temporary foreign worker.

• The government will now charge $1,000 for every foreign worker requested by an employer. The previous fee was $275.

• On-farm primary agriculture is exempt from the changes, with the exception of tougher enforcement and penalties to employers who break the rules.

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  • V Fisher

    I wonder why Canadians won’t work at slaughter houses? Could it be that it is repulsive to Canadians to have to bolt or shoot sentient animals in the head, sometimes repeatedly to stun them. Could it be that animals that are not properly stunned, revive after having their throat slit and struggle and call out in panic before they finally bleed out enough to go into a coma? Frankly, 40-60% of them are still conscious when they’re legs are cut off and they are eviscerated. Could it be that this whole act of slaughtering is so horribly disgusting and inhumane that Canadians don’t want any part of it? Maybe you should start paying attention.

    • abby

      yup – GO VEGAN

  • Laureen

    Shut these houses of horror down!!! The suffering of the animals is so immense it is incomprehensible!!! Why do people continue to eat animals?? It is not worth the hell that they are put through just so you can drive through and pick up your burger and fries because you are too much in a hurry to make a proper meal. Selfish human beings!!! If you ask anyone if they would contine to eat meat if they had to kill the animal themselves, no would be the answer. It is okay to eat meat as long as you don’t have to do the dirty work, and can walk into the grocery store and fill your cart with prettily wrapped packages that contain dead animal parts. I would especially like to see the horse slaughter plants lose their shirts!!!

  • If the slaughter industry treated the animals respectfully and kindly they wouldn’t have such a problem. At the same token, if the millions of dollars in surplus profits were used for research to find humane methods to end an animal’s life (other than veterinary assisted euthenasia) then the Canadian workforce might be interested in jobs in the industry again. There is really no reason for Canadians to subsidize the slaughter industry with $8 million dollars when when in 2012 for example the industry took in $122 million in profits (http://equineright.blogspot.ca). It seems that if the slaughter industry wants to attract Canadians it has some major reforms to make including abiding by our farm animal laws during its operations behind closed doors.