Agri-Businesses seek flexibility in Temporary Foreign Worker review

by Staff

As Ottawa considers an overhaul of its Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) program, a new study by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) reveals that 59% of agri-businesses favour a multi-employer work permit to enhance competitiveness.

However, most agribusiness owners oppose sectoral and regional work permits, fearing employee poaching and retention issues. The CFIB emphasizes the need for streamlined processes and greater flexibility to address chronic staffing shortages and ensure the future of Canada’s food security.

“While government is reviewing its TFW program, it needs to consider the practical needs of agri-businesses and the future of Canada’s food security,” said CFIB’s policy analyst Juliette Nicolaÿ in a media release Wednesday. “Farmers are already struggling with chronic staffing shortages, and when they turn to foreign labour, it’s only as a last resort because they can’t find anyone locally. That’s concerning given Canada’s ageing population and a perceived lack of interest among Canadian workers in a career in agriculture.”

Three in ten Canadian agri-businesses hired foreign workers last year, according to CFIB data, with reliance on foreign workers greater in Quebec at 51 per cent, and in labour-intensive sectors, including fruits, vegetable and horticultural specialties (64%). CFIB cites Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) data to indicate 92 per cent of TFW-hiring employers said foreign workers helped them meet demand for their products or services, while 89% said that TFWs helped them stay in business.

CFIB says myths exist about TFWs being paid insufficient wages or receiving poor treatment from employers. CFIB datsa indicates 85 per cent of TFWs are paid the same as Canadians and only 3.5 per cent are paid less. ninety-four per cent of employers inspected by the federal government of health and safety were compliant on 26 different criteria.

“While there may be isolated bad actors that should not be tolerated, agri-businesses highly value foreign workers, and they take time and effort to bring TFWs to Canada. They cover costs that go beyond wages like housing, transport, and health care. It is also common for farmers to have the same TFWs come back year after year. Some also sponsor foreign workers to become permanent residents,” said CFIB research analyst Francesca Basta in the same release.

CFIB is recommending the following to the federal government in their review:

  • Reducing red tape associated with hiring TFWs, notably streamlining the Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) process
  • Allowing for the sharing or transferring foreign workers as an option (e.g., multi-employer work permit)
  • Indexing the housing deduction to inflation – it is currently $30, which does not reflect real housing prices
  • Allowing employers to match the wages offered by another employer with an LMIA in the same area to strengthen retention and curtail poaching. Provisions under the Employer Compliance Regime currently limit this.
  • Reimbursing the employer for the costs associated with the administration and enforcement of the compliance inspection, should the LMIA not be issued
  • Introducing a mechanism to compensate initial costs covered by the employer whose employee has been poached and streamlining access to new TFWs.

CFIB’s report – Harvesting a solution: Temporary Foreign Workers (TFWs) key to mitigating agricultural labour shortages – can be found online.

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