Changes have been made to the Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) program, announced earlier this week by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau.
The Program Workforce Solutions Road Map is an initiative that marks the next step in an ongoing effort to adjust and improve the TFW Program to ensure it continues to meet the labour market needs required, the government says.
We’ve heard a lot about the program since the start of COVID-19 and the pandemic, which has in turn highlighted several of flaws within it.
Marie-France MacKinnon, vice president of public affairs and communications at the Canadian Meat Council (CMC) joined RealAg Radio host Shaun Haney to discuss the changes — which includes an increase in the TFW cap from 10 per cent to 30 per cent. This is an ask the CMC has been pushing for quite some time now, as labour shortages continue to make themselves very apparent.
“It’s really going to help us stabilize the food supply chain, because for meat processors, our labour shortage has had — and keeps having — a direct impact on producers,” she explains. “Four years ago, we had 1,700 empty butcher stations. As you can imagine, the pandemic made everything more critical. And now we’re at 10,000 empty workstations. So this increase in the temporary foreign workers cap is key to our sector, and to all of agri-food.”
Another significant change to the TFW program is the duration of stay, up from 180 days to 270 days, which as MacKinnon notes, is really impactful on the seasonal sector, such as the seafood industry.
The government has also announced an inaugural TFW Program Ministerial Consultative Roundtable, so they can hear directly from worker representatives and other stakeholders on how to make the program stronger and more effective for workers, employers, and their communities. The roundtable is currently set to convene in June of 2022.
“There are kind of two different projects that will really help address the labour shortage, but in different ways. We are working directly with government, we are involved in those roundtables that will take place, as we need a seat at that table,” says MacKinnon. “If we’ve learned anything from this, working together with government to try to find solutions for an emergency proposal we put forth, this is what can happen. The great measures announced is what happens when government and the industry works together on a solution. We have a lot of willingness on both sides to get to the ‘how do we fix the system.'”
The first step to really fixing the system, says MacKinnon, is the need for permanent workers.
“There’s nothing temporary about jobs in our sector, they’re full time, and they’re permanent, with the majority of them unionized. And we’re using a program called temporary foreign workers, when we truly need a permanent solution.”