Ottawa reconsidering cap reduction for temporary foreign workers

June 15, 2016

By Kelsey Johnson, iPolitics |

Canadian meat plants continuing to grapple with an acute labour shortage on their plant floors may be getting some relief from Ottawa.

Labour Minister MaryAnn Mihychuk says the Trudeau government is reconsidering a mandatory July 1 drop in the number of temporary foreign workers a company can employ.

“We’re definitely looking at the cap,” Mihychuk said Tuesday. “I think that, really, what we’re looking at is a system that’s obviously going to meet the needs of business, and quite frankly, it didn’t meet the business needs.”

Mihychuk’s comments come as Canadian meat processors are bracing themselves for another hit to their workforces. As of July 1, the number of low-wage temporary foreign workers allowed to be employed in places like meat plants is set to drop from its current 20 per cent to 10 per cent.

The hard cap was first introduced in 2014 by Conservative cabinet minister Jason Kenney – at the height of public criticism over reports of abuse within the Temporary Foreign Worker program.

But Canada’s agriculture and food processing industries say the changes have exasperated an already acute labour shortage.

“The cap should not exist, especially in the meat industry,” HyLife’s Baerbel Langner told the House of Commons Standing Committee on Human Resources, June 1.

“The cap calculation is nonsense. In the materials we’ve provided to you—I won’t say it’s nonsense; it’s complicated. It’s discretionary. It’s not clear,” she said. Langner provides in house legal counsel for HyLife, a meat processing plant that employs some 1,800 people in rural Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

Portia MacDonald-Dewhirst, executive director of the Canadian Agriculture Human Resources, told the committee the worker shortage in Canada’s agriculture sector has reached a “crisis point.”

“Currently, the agriculture industry has the highest job vacancy rate of any industry in Canada, with an unfilled job vacancy rate of 7 per cent, the national average being 1.8 per cent,” she said. “The council’s research clarifies that Canadian producers are losing $1.5 billion annually, or 3 per cent of the industry’s total farm cash receipts, due to unfilled job vacancies.”

The agriculture industry, MacDonald-Dewhirst noted, currently employs 45,600 temporary foreign workers, including both seasonal agriculture workers and employees accessed through both the agricultural and regular TFW streams.

“Without these workers, businesses would struggle and Canadian businesses and jobs would be at risk,” she stressed.

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