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COUNTRY LIFE IN BC • AUGUST 2019 Feds address


labour shortages Changes helpful but fall short, say abattoir, greenhouse groups


by PETER MITHAM OTTAWA—There’s plenty of


work to be done to address labour issues in agriculture, but farm leaders say changes to the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP) and a new, three-year pilot program for temporary foreign workers will help. Originally announced in


BEE HEALTHY! BC Ministry of Agriculture apiary inspector Wendi Gilson, left, paid a visit to beekeeper Laura Olsen of Port Alberni in July. Wendi provides outreach and hive inspections to North Island apiarists looking for signs of varroa mites, Nosema fungi and overall brood health. BOB COLLINS PHOTO


this year’s federal budget, the pilot program aims to attract foreign workers to the meat, mushroom and greenhouse vegetable sectors. Details were announced July 12 at Maple Leaf Foods in Mississauga by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship minister Ahmed Hussen. The venue was chosen in


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part because of the importance of temporary foreign workers to food processors, which can’t participate in SAWP. The new program will give employers a chance to hire workers for a two-year period through the temporary foreign worker program. Qualified workers will have the chance, after one year, to apply for permanent resident status. Applications for residency will be accepted beginning in early 2020. But the step forward


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doesn’t go far enough for some of the sectors it’s supposed to help. “We need more than temporary workers,” says Nova Woodbury, executive director of the BC Association of Abattoirs. “We need them to be around because it’s not going to get solved in a year or two. This has been going on for many years.” Similar concerns were


expressed to the standing senate committee on agriculture and forestry, which released a report on the value-added food sector on July 15. The committee recommended that government create pathways to permanent resident status to assist farm workers, who typically don’t qualify given that Canada prioritizes highly skilled workers. “Finding ways for these


workers to stay in the country permanently could offer a lasting solution to the sector’s labour shortages,” the report said.


BC Greenhouse Growers


Association executive director Linda Delli Santi also said a long-term strategy is needed on labour issues. Temporary workers are important but are, by definition, temporary. “[The pilot] doesn’t address


the root cause of it, but it will help in having more people,” she says.


The fundamental issue, she


says, is a lack of interest in agricultural careers. “Working on a farm does not mean you’re going to be picking carrots in October in the rain. It means you could be an MBA, you could be a bookkeeper, a research scientist,” she says. “We need much more help on educating people in Canada that agricultural jobs can be rewarding and fulfilling.” Meanwhile, growers have had an easier time receiving workers under SAWP. Approximately 9,000


workers are expected in the province this year, including 7,500 from Mexico and 1,500 from the Caribbean. This contrasts with last year, when approximately than 7,250 workers came in under SAWP thanks to processing issues in Mexico. Often, employers never received approvals and workers never arrived. Ultimately, just short of 5,800 workers from Mexico showed up. A requirement that workers


from Mexico submit biometric data – something already in place for workers from the Caribbean – raised fears the delays would continue this year. Given past delays and limited processing capacity in Mexico, many feared the worst. “God help us with the biometrics,” quipped Hugo Velázquez Vázquez, coordinator of the SAWP program at Mexico’s consulate in Vancouver during a BC Agriculture Council workshop for employers last fall. Canada’s immigration


department allowed workers approved prior to December 2018 to land without providing biometric data, however. Approximately half the workers coming to BC were able to defer providing biometric data until 2020. “To date, the 2019 SAWP season seems to be running smoothly,” says program manager Veronica Moreno of the Western Agricultural Labour Initiative (WALI), which oversees SAWP in BC. Ottawa began accepting applications for 2020 on July 15, a month earlier than last year, to ensure the staggered process continues to flow smoothly.


Biometric data is collected


once every 10 years, meaning returning workers will not have to provide the information every year.


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