Federal changes could attract more workers to agricultural jobs

The federal government has introduced changes to help students looking for summer jobs find employment in agriculture.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced changes to the Canada Summer Jobs program aimed at businesses with fewer than 50 employees that are delivering essential services.

Businesses will have 100 percent of their employees’ salaries covered by the federal government, up from the previous 50 percent. Employees will also be able to continue working until the end of February 2021, which is longer than under the previous program.

The move came shortly after the federal government deemed the entire food supply chain an essential service. According to federal officials, they are now looking for opportunities available on farms and within the sector.

“This is certainly a piece of the puzzle, although not the solution to the labour needs of the sector,” said Agriculture Minster Marie-Claude Bibeau in a statement. “Right now, there are many young people, who don’t know what they will be doing this summer, but need money and want experience. I hope many would consider helping on a farm or in local food businesses, where they can help ensure Canadians continue having access to quality food at affordable prices during this challenging time.”

Labour continues to be a concern on farms. The COVID-19 crisis is still expected to affect the availability of foreign workers despite an exemption on the border closure that allows them to enter the country.

Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council (CAHRC) says it is working with industry associations and agricultural business owners to clarify labour-related issues during COVID-19 crisis and help provide solutions.

“The industry struggles with filling positions every year; this year will prove even more challenging. The Government of Canada recognizes the importance of food production, these activities are considered essential and are still ongoing through the pandemic,” said executive director Portia MacDonald-Dewhirst in a statement.

“Farmers are advertising available positions. We help promote that the industry is hiring and that Canadians should review local opportunities within the industry and consider jobs related to food production.”

In a recent report, CAHRC said without the participation of the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program, or Temporary Foreign Workers Program, job vacancies will be extensive, businesses will struggle to remain viable and the impacts on the Canadian food system and supply would be severe.

“Canadian food production and supply would be negatively impacted for the next 12 to 18 months, specifically fruits and vegetables,” reads the report. “Stress, production delays, lost sales, and delays or cancellations for farm expansions or upgrades would exceed well beyond the reported figures of 2018 when 47 percent of agricultural producers reported these concerns.”

Without access to seasonal agricultural workers or temporary foreign workers, the report says producers will face job losses, closures of farms, a negative impact on food-processing abilities, animal welfare concerns, health and safety concerns, food safety and food security concerns.

A group of 22 senators wrote a letter to the federal government asking it to consider allowing Canadians employed in positions typically filled by temporary or seasonal agricultural workers to continue receiving emergency response benefits while they earned money on farms.

“The COVID-19 pandemic reinforces what people sometimes forget: that agricultural jobs have value and are integral to the wellbeing of our society,” said P.E.I. senator Diane Griffin, former chair of the Senate Agriculture and Forestry Committee, in a statement. “It is unlikely that all of the nearly 60,000 foreign workers on which farmers and processors depended will arrive in Canada to plant our crops and process food from the land or sea.”

“To put food on the table, Canada needs to increase the hiring of its domestic workforce by supporting workers, via economic incentives, to find their way to Canadian fields and food processing facilities,” she said.

The senators requested Canadians working on farms be able to continue receiving employment insurance benefits without having their on-farm earnings clawed back, and for the federal government to pay for accommodations for those who would usually live on a farm in a communal setting.

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