Maple Leaf Foods says the federal government denied an application in June to hire 75 foreign workers for its Brandon hog processing plant.
The decision, combined with restrictive changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, has created a human resources situation that is not “sustainable” for Maple Leaf, says Rory McAlpine, the company’s vice-president of government relations.
“For the first time, back in June, a labour market opinion for 75 meat cutters for the plant was refused,” he said.
“We think that decision was wrong.”
McAlpine said the government denied the application because the company didn’t promote the job openings domestically.
“There were a few very technical issues that they pointed to … that we hadn’t done enough to advertise the opportunities across Canada,” he said.
“But we do a very aggressive domestic recruitment and advertising right across the country.”
Employment and social development minister Jason Kenney introduced changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program in June, including limiting the percentage of foreign employees at a workplace and reducing the length of time a temporary foreign worker can spend in Canada from two years to one.
Kenney changed the program following alleged abuses by fast food restaurants this spring. 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.
Maple Leaf and other companies in Canada’s meat industry lashed out at the reforms.
Ron Davidson, the Canadian Meat Council’s director of international trade, government and media relations, said Canadians don’t want to work at slaughter plants.
“We don’t know more that 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.”
Morgan Curran-Blaney, manager of the Brandon plant, said this summer that the plant loses about 40 staff every month, and Canadian workers fill only 12 of them. The rest are foreign.
McAlpine said reducing the length of time a foreign worker can stay in Canada from two years to one is a critical change to the program.
He said in June that Maple Leaf employs 1,200 foreign workers in Western Canada, and approximately 900 are now permanent residents.
Most of them are at the Brandon plant, which employs 1,800 to 1,900 people.
The plant requires 2,300 workers at full capacity.
“We had a model there that was very successfully bringing foreign workers in … training them, acclimatizing them and helping them transition to permanent residency. Over 70 percent of the foreign workers we recruited have achieved permanent residency,” he said.
“That limit of one year means, effectively, the bridge to permanent residency has been severed…. We don’t want to spend a bunch of effort, bring in, recruit and train, only to find they have to leave the country and we have to repeat the cycle. That’s not sustainable.”
McAlpine said Maple Leaf is re-evaluating its use of the program because of the one-year rule and the modified program’s higher costs. It now costs $1,000 for a Labour Market Impact Assessment for every temporary foreign worker, up from $275 under the old rules.
McAlpine said Maple Leaf and other meat companies have requested changes to the program and are in discussions with the federal government.
Larry Maguire, Conservative MP for Brandon Souris, was not available for comment before the Oct. 10 press deadline.