Beekeepers frustrated by temporary foreign worker audits

Without temporary foreign workers Canada’s honey production would probably be cut in half.

Beekeepers depend on seasonal workers from Mexico, the Philippines and other nations because many Canadians don’t want to work at an apiary, likely located in a remote and rural area.

As a result, beekeepers must retain their foreign employees and take steps to keep their workers happy. That’s why many beekeepers are frustrated with Service Canada.

The federal agency has been conducting audits to monitor how beekeepers and other farmers treat temporary foreign workers.

A representative of the Alberta Beekeepers Commission said the audits are ridiculous because the Temporary Foreign Worker and Seasonal Agricultural Worker programs already have rules and regulations that protect employees.

The beekeeper, who didn’t want his name published because he fears government retribution, said his operation was audited in 2017. The process took about six months and required frequent written correspondence, by mail, with Service Canada representatives to sort out minor issues that could have been resolved in a few weeks.

As an example of redundancy and time wasting of the audit, the beekeeper is required to pay for airline flights of his temporary foreign workers.

“The (TFW) contract already obligates me to do that. I have to do that to participate in the program,” he said.

“When I got audited they made me sign paperwork that I would follow through with the contract that I already signed. It’s ridiculous…. So there’s double accountability. What value does that bring?”

Beekeepers, grain farmers, pork producers and other farmers who use the TFW program are annoyed with Service Canada because the department previously conducted scheduled audits.

However, now Service Canada carries out unannounced audits where federal inspectors show up at any time.

“When we came into office, we made a commitment to revamp the integrity of this program so that Canadians had faith that we weren’t just bringing temporary foreign workers into the country and that we were making an effort to hire Canadians,” Matt Pascuzzo, press secretary for the minister of employment, workforce development, and labour, told the National Post in March.

“The whole point of doing unannounced inspections is to make sure people are obeying the right rules of this program even when nobody is looking.”

In Alberta, which produces more honey than any other province, TFW likely represent 50 to 75 percent of the employees on many apiaries. Beekeepers dedicate hundreds of hours of time to recruit and retain foreign workers for the next honey crop.

“If we don’t have our guys (TFW) show up, we lose our season,” said the Alberta beekeeper, adding he has a three-inch thick folder on his desk for TFW paperwork.

“It is absolutely my number one headache…. We hire extra staff so I can stay on top of this program.”

The beekeeper agrees there should be accountability to ensure workers are treated properly, but the federal government’s approach and the unannounced audits are excessive.

A few producers said the federal government should be streamlining the TFW for Canada’s agriculture industry, which has a chronic shortage of labour.

Gary Stordy, Canadian Pork Council director of government and corporate affairs, said the pork sector has a major concern with the audits: biosecurity.

If an inspector shows up at a hog farm and then visits another farm the same day, it increases the risk of disease transmission from farm to farm.

That aside, he said audits aren’t ideal but they’re a reality of doing business.

“If these audits have to take place, we want to make sure the audits respect biosecurity protocols.”

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