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The rising cost of hiring temporary foreign workers puts cattle feeders at risk 

Many of Canada’s agricultural producers rely on the Temporary Foreign Worker Program to help keep their operations running. Even though they would prefer to hire from within the domestic labour pool, there are three main reasons why it is hard for them to find local workers:

1. Farm work is often seasonal, and many Canadian candidates choose to seek year-round work elsewhere.

2. The work can be extremely physical and strenuous, which limits the number of people interested in, or able for, such work.

3. While baby boomer farmers are retiring, young people are leaving rural areas for cities, creating a labour gap.

The agricultural industry collaborated to create a Canadian Agriculture and Agri-Food Workforce Action Plan and have urged the government to adopt their recommendations for addressing the labour crisis.

Why new changes to the temporary foreign worker program will impact cattle feeders

In October 2018, the Alberta government changed the prevailing wages for temporary foreign workers.

For example, the minimum wage for the NOC (national occupational classification, or occupational group) that includes specialized livestock workers and supervisors has increased from $18.43 per hour to $21.63 or more, across the province. That’s a wage increase of more than $3 per hour.

These minimum wages are in addition to other requirements such as supplying housing for workers, so the total cost of hiring a temporary foreign worker can quickly become prohibitive for agricultural producers, even though they desperately need help.

The Agriculture Industry Labour Council of Alberta (AILCA) has written a letter to the federal and provincial governments asking for support, because it is concerned that proposed changes to two programs intended to help farmers with a worker shortage will make it even harder to access labour. You can read more about that in ‘Alberta’s agricultural leaders ask government for help with labour crisis’.

To learn more about the agricultural labour crisis, read ‘12 must-know facts about the agricultural labour shortage and why it matters to Canadians.’

Feeding the world: why the agri-food industry must be an economic priority

Canada’s agricultural industry has long been in a severe labour crisis. As young people move toward the cities, and rural populations age, our farmers struggle more and more to find the manpower they need to run their operations. Despite this labour crunch, agricultural production in Alberta is worth about $5 billion a year, so finding solutions for the people who produce our food is a top priority.

The Federal Advisory Council on Economic Growth recently recommended to the Federal Government that the agriculture and food sector be named a growth priority. This introduces opportunities for industry and government to come together in partnership to strategically remove growth constraints and leverage untapped potential. The labour shortage will be one of the high-impact issues to be addressed by action teams consisting of various stakeholders.

Why this matters

Canadian farmers will always try to employ Canadians first. But when they have positions that Canadians aren’t applying for, they must have access to alternative sources of labour. Only then can our farmers produce the high-quality food Canadians expect, and have the capability to supply a healthy export market.

Canada has an international reputation for high-quality food and exceptional food safety standards, and prioritizing growth will help secure our place as a global leader in the provision of top-quality, trusted agri-food products to the world.

Changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program

This is not the first ray of light that has been offered to this struggling industry. In December 2016, the Federal Government announced changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program that promise to help alleviate the labour shortage. Some of the changes include:

  • Removal of a rule stating that foreign workers could only work in Canada for four years at a time.
  • Changes to caps and exemptions.
  • A commitment to developing pathways to permanence for foreign workers.

How these changes support the Canadian Agriculture and Agri-Food Workforce Action Plan

The Canadian Agriculture and Agri-Food Workforce Action Plan is an industry-led ‘roadmap’ to help alleviate the labour shortage. The recommendation to make agri-foods a growth-priority industry supports the plan’s two main recommendations:

  • Increase the supply of labour to meet immediate and future requirements for skilled and unskilled workers.
  • Improve the knowledge and skills of workers to meet immediate and future labour requirements.

These recommendations also closely align with the Economic Advisory Council’s recommendations regarding a ‘FutureSkills Lab’ and represent immediate targets to support the agriculture industry on this front.

To learn more about Canada’s agriculture labour shortage, check out: