Discussing Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program

It’s a tough job but someone has to do it.
Marg Land
February 14, 2018
By
The frustration in the room was palpable.

Every seat was full while a line of people, many with arms crossed and brows furrowed, leaned against the back wall of the meeting room. Up for discussion? Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program.

The past few years for farmers have been stressful as they’ve been forced to wade through the fallout of several years of intense scrutiny of the foreign worker program by the media and activist groups. The Auditor General’s report released in May 2017 added even more pressure to the program after Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) agreed to implement all of its recommendations.

“That’s why it’s been greatly affecting [the season agricultural worker program],” explained Carrie Raymond-Gardner, program coordinator for Foreign Agricultural Resource Management Services (FARMS).

More then 20,000 seasonal foreign agricultural workers came to Canada in 2017 with Nova Scotia alone receiving 1,389 of them. Even with those numbers, seasonal agricultural workers only make up nine percent of the entire Temporary Foreign Worker Program.

And yet, despite being in place since 1966, it seems to be receiving 99 per cent of the headaches.

Several Nova Scotia growers described problems with housing inspections, Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) delays, and onerous advertising requirements.

“I think it’s absolutely ludicrous for me to be advertising for workers now that I’m not going to be employing until June,” one grower in the audience stated.

Another farmer described being challenged by a Service Canada investigator about the wording of his operation’s local advertising, which mentioned applying for a job in person.

“The question was … how could a person from another country apply in person? But I wasn’t advertising for people from other countries. I was advertising for Canadians.

“The reality is the farmer sometimes gets penalized for inefficiencies.”

Commodity organizations have recognized these inefficiencies and have taken action. To help meet challenges, FARMS has had to triple its work staff. And, according to a recent report from Murray Porteous, chair of the Canadian Horticultural Council’s national labour committee, the Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council has been brought on-board to help with problems.

“We know how bad things are and what it is like to deal with the uncertainty of extended LMIA processing and Integrity Audits,” he said, adding labour groups are doing all they can to help growers. “We know this is as bad as it gets and we will see significant improvements in the coming year.”

Hopefully those improvements come soon. As one Nova Scotia grower stated: “We’re not hiring offshore workers because they’re cheap labour. We’re employing offshore workers because they’re necessary. My farm and probably every farm in this room using offshore workers would be out of business … without this labour force.”

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