Posts

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.’

5 priorities for cattle feeders in 2019 

Canada’s cattle feeders are urging politicians to consider the needs of beef producers in their platforms for the 2019 federal election. 

Agriculture and Agri-Food is a $100-billion industry that employs more than two million Canadians. The government has identified the sector as one of a few with the potential to spur economic growth.

Canada is in a prime position to benefit from increasing global demand for agricultural products, but the industry requires government support in removing constraints and barriers to growth. 

The National Cattle Feeders’ Association (NCFA) cites five urgent challenges:

Rural infrastructure

Most agricultural operations are in rural municipalities with a limited tax base to provide infrastructure. With little federal funding, some municipalities have implemented counterproductive measures, such as the livestock head tax in Lethbridge County. This is eroding the competitiveness of cattle feeding in southern Alberta.

It is crucial that the federal government identifies critical infrastructure investments in rural communities and dedicates financial resources to make them happen.

Labour shortage

A chronic labour shortage of about 60,000 workers is costing primary agriculture producers about $1.5 billion in unrealized farm cash receipts each year. 

Farmers have been forced to turn to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program to fill positions that cannot be filled by Canadians, but the process is expensive, time-consuming and complicated. 

The program’s processes need to be streamlined and clear a pathway set for permanent residency for temporary foreign workers.

Regulatory barriers

The industry is ever-evolving with new technologies and industry developments. But when regulations don’t keep pace, it hinders our ability to compete in the global marketplace.

In 2016, NCFA released a detailed study entitled The Competitiveness of the Canadian Cattle Feeding Sector: Regulatory and Policy Issues(PDF)

, Costs and Opportunities. It highlighted six areas – enhanced traceability, export regulation and impediments, veterinary drug harmonization, inspection practices, transportation and labour – where reforms could generate an additional $495 million in revenue across the beef value chain.

International market access

Canada exports 45 per cent of its beef production, and those exports are primarily to the U.S. To grow, the industry needs to expand into other markets, including the Asia-Pacific region and Europe.

Agreements such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and the Canada-EU Comprehensive and Economic Trade Agreement (CETA) should be a government priority. They will have a tremendous impact on our ability to trade effectively with these regions.

Consumer education and trust

Government and industry need to work together to ensure consumers are able to make informed choices when it comes to their food, whether the issue is environmental impact, health, or production methods.

Public education should be a pillar of any new national food policy, and Canada Food Guide revisions should reflect the most recent scientific, medical and nutritional research.

In an earlier blog post, we featured John Weekes, an independent business advisor who has worked with NCFA on international trade issues. You can learn more about his work in Meet the international trade expert who is helping support the beef industry abroad.

Secure labour sources needed to meet $75-billion ag-export goal

 

In 2017, the federal government challenged Canada’s agricultural producers to reach an export target of $75 billion by 2025 – fully $20 billion more than current levels. The government has identified agriculture as one of a handful of sectors that could spur economic growth.

Yet the huge potential for increased global trade for Canadian agri-foods is likely to go unfulfilled unless the agriculture sector’s chronic labour crisis is resolved.

Temporary foreign workers

The importance of temporary foreign workers to Canada’s farmers has been explained in previous blog posts. When farmers cannot find enough domestic workers to help them run their operations, access to temporary foreign workers, and the ability to keep them in the country, is crucial to the growth of the sector.

Proposed changes to the Alberta Immigrant Nominee Program and to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program are making it harder for farmers to access that labour lifeline.

Youth unemployment

We spoke with Joe Hersch, managing director of Youth Jobs Canada, who said that young Canadians could also be part of the solution.

“Unemployment rates among youth are in the range of 13 to 14 per cent,” said Joe. “That’s about double the Canadian unemployment rate, which stands at around seven per cent”.

Youth Jobs Canada is the only national employment website that focuses strictly on youth. It makes employment resources available to youth, and helps bridge the divide between them and potential employers. “We wanted to give youth the tools that they need to go after jobs, but also to allow employers to post jobs,” Joe continued.

The response to the site, which launched in October 2017, has been very favourable among employers, but the uptake among youth is growing more slowly. Joe commented that job seekers can sometimes be unrealistic in terms of the level at which they expect to enter a career path.

Youth Jobs Canada is building awareness among young people, primarily through work fairs and social media.

“Social media is where young people live,” said Joe, “and if you can direct your message through social media that’s how you can make sure you’re being seen. Having that interaction is so valuable, so that youth feel comfortable that we’re identifying with what they need.”

Services such as Youth Jobs Canada are valuable tools in the agricultural sector’s recruitment toolkit. Some others include Acme School’s Career Connections, Alberta 4-H, Ag in the Classroom and Alberta Agriculture and Forestry’s Green Certificate Program. Nonetheless, support from the government is the best hope our agricultural producers have of a viable solution to this long-term challenge.

2017: Cattle feeders’ year in review

This past year saw a number of challenges arise that gave cattle feeders cause for concern, such as changing legislation and regulations, taxation, and trade. At each step, the Alberta Cattle Feeders’ Association (ACFA) has played an active role in advocating and negotiating for our members.

Here are some of the major projects we worked on in 2017:

Strategic plan

In March, ACFA board members, staff and industry partners met to renew the organization’s vision, mission and strategic plan. Here is a summary of the outcome of those talks:

Vision: Champion a sustainable cattle feeding sector in Alberta.

Mission: Pursue innovative and collaborative solutions for a thriving Alberta beef industry

Strategic priority #1: Build ACFA membership by delivering value to our members.

Strategic priority #2: Engage with the provincial government to strengthen the health of the cattle feeding sector in Alberta.

Strategic priority #3: Collaborate with partners to advance the industry.

Strategic priority #4: Strengthen ACFA governance.

Advocacy

There were many issues affecting cattle feeders in 2017 in which ACFA played an active role in advocating for our members’ interests. These included:

    • The Lethbridge County head tax which would severely impact cattle feeders in that area, resulting in feedlot closures.
    • The provincial carbon levy which could add costs by as much as $6 to $7 per head.
    • Federal income tax changes that will harm the viability of family-owned corporations.
    • Infrastructure needs, which are not receiving adequate provincial or federal funding.
    • Labour shortages, ongoing issues with the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP), and proposed changes to the Alberta Immigrant Nominee Program (AINP).
    • Farm safety, employment standards and the Employment Standards Code.
    • Trade, and access to new markets for cattle feeders.

Outreach

ACFA’s communications with stakeholders and the public included:

    • Key provincial government ministers, decision-makers, MLAs and MPs.
    • Members, industry and the media.
    • Feedlot tours for educators, students, and government officials.

Watch for status reports, as we continue to stay on top of these issues throughout the coming year.

Canada’s agriculture sector needs help – and foreign workers are part of the solution

The agriculture sector is in the midst of an acute labour crisis. For Canada’s cattle feeders, temporary foreign workers are a lifeline when they can’t fill vital positions with Canadian candidates. The Alberta Cattle Feeders’ Association (ACFA) is working hard to ensure feedlots have access to skilled labour when Canadians cannot be found. 

In spite of high vacancies in the cattle feeding sector, it’s becomingly increasingly difficult to access temporary foreign workers – applying to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) has been a convoluted and time-consuming process since changes were made in 2014.

How applications are made

Feedlot owners use the TFWP’s Agricultural Stream to access workers for year-round, permanent jobs. The current program attempts to fit a variety of industries and sectors into a one-size-fits-all design and does not recognize that a feedlot’s need for year-round, permanent employees differs greatly from seasonal farming requirements. 

In a recent Temporary Foreign Worker Program Primary Ag Review, cattle feeders provided their feedback on the program, with suggestions for improvements. The feedback revealed some common trends and serious frustrations:

  • Paperwork timelines: Bringing foreign workers in under the TFWP Agricultural Stream takes six months or longer for processing of paperwork, including a Service Canada Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) and the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada Work Permit. This is too long for feedlot employers needing to fill vacancies to care for and feed live cattle. 
  • Housing: To qualify for the TFWP, feedlot employers must provide subsidized accommodation and a positive housing inspection. Most feedlots do not have on-site accommodation so local housing is found for workers. Employers must rent and furnish accommodation before applying — creating a months-long financial burden that feedlot owners must endure with no guarantee of a successful application. Differences between year-round and seasonal accommodation are not currently recognized and no consideration is being given to the unique needs of year-round feedlot workers.
  • National Commodity List (NCL): To apply under the Agricultural Stream, the feedlot operator must select one commodity, or production stream, per application. Workers brought in under the program are then only allowed to work within that one commodity. The rule doesn’t realistically fit with feedlot operations, where workers typically have responsibilities that fall under two or more of these commodities. LMIAs are being refused for this reason. 
  • Changing requirements: Job postings must reference the federally regulated wage rate. When the wage rates are changed, notification is not provided so if the wrong rate is advertised, then LMIA applications are often declined multiple times, at no fault of the feedlot employer. Endless back and forth follow-up with Service Canada can result in the loss of potential candidates because feedlots are unable to indicate to these workers when approval will actually, if ever, take place.
  • A disconnect between federal and provincial rules: Provincial frameworks often don’t align with federal frameworks. In some provinces, formal paperwork has to be submitted to the province in order to begin the TFW application process. When the TFW application ends up being a long, drawn-out process, the provincial paperwork can actually expire, leaving the feedlot to start the entire process over again.
  • Immigration access restrictions for feedlot workers: Under Canada’s merit-based immigration system it is very difficult for feedlot operators and processing plants to keep highly skilled workers in the country – even when they have vital experience and on-the-job training. Federal and provincial governments must recognize farm and food workers as important and prioritize them for immigration.

ACFA works with the Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council and the Agriculture and Agri-Food Labour Task Force to research and bring these issues forward. It is crucial that the uniqueness of feedlot operations is taken into consideration and that blanket requirements are removed from the program. 

In a recent post we wrote about the Alberta Immigration Nominee program, whereby businesses can apply for permanent resident status for their temporary foreign workers. But changes to that program could also make it harder for feedlot operators to keep certain highly skilled workers in the country.

Will immigration program changes help the agriculture labour crisis?

Photo Credit: GrainsWest magazine
Photographer: Bryce Meyer

 

On the surface, it appears that proposed changes to the Alberta Immigrant Nominee Program (AINP) may help alleviate the chronic labour crisis currently affecting our agriculture sector. However, on closer inspection, some of the changes will actually prevent feedlots from nominating certain highly skilled foreign workers.

The good…

The AINP allows foreign nationals to apply for permanent residency while they work in Canada under a temporary foreign worker permit. The program is not new, but until now, applicants have had to select from multiple streams and sub-categories under which eligibility was assessed. The proposed changes, which take effect on January 2, 2018, will simplify the application process and standardize eligibility criteria, making it simpler for applicants and streamlining the review process.

Of particular note, the new AINP will allow applicants from all skill levels to apply. Up until now, lower-skilled workers (such as feedlot labourers) have not had an option to apply for permanent residency in Canada. As of January 2, they will be eligible to apply under the AINP as long as they meet work experience, education, income and language requirements, among other things.

The bad & the ugly…

The federal government’s Express Entry program has grown increasingly more restrictive, forcing many skilled feedlot workers to look for alternative application streams. Further, the English language requirements of the program prevented many from applying. Luckily, the AINP has served as an option to workers who a) could not gain sufficient points under Express Entry due to their education, age, or a variety of other factors, and/or b) could not apply due to an inability to meet minimum language benchmarks.

As of January 2, all AINP applicants will need to provide proof that they have the equivalent of a Canadian High School Diploma. Further, they will need to pass an English language test. This will cover all skill levels; from pen riders to feed truck drivers or labourers, etc.

While it’s true that many feedlots employ highly skilled foreign workers with veterinary-related degrees and excellent English language skills, many more employ high-skilled workers who do not have high school diplomas or do not meet the language requirements. These workers often have decades of related work experience. Many could pass the speaking and listening portion of the exam, but cannot pass the reading/writing portions as they do not exercise these skills on a daily basis. Unfortunately, once the changes come into place these foreign workers will no longer have any option to pursue permanent resident status in Canada.

Why the agriculture sector needs foreign workers

For Canada’s agriculture sector, many factors have contributed to a labour shortage that makes it increasingly difficult for farmers to find help – factors such as harsh working conditions, the seasonality of the work and the steady flow of young people into urban areas.

According to ‘Agriculture 2025,’ the labour market information report from the Canadian Agriculture Human Resources Council, there were 59,200 more agricultural jobs than candidates in 2014. This labour gap is expected to rise to 113,800 – 27 per cent of jobs – by 2025. In other words, Canadian farmers cannot fill their jobs from the available pool of Canadian applicants.

The Temporary Foreign Worker Program has been invaluable in helping alleviate the shortage. It allows employers to bring in foreign workers on a temporary basis to fill jobs that can’t be filled by Canadians. The AINP, on the other hand, allows those workers to apply for permanent residency while they are working in Canada on a temporary permit.

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