Getting into the Field: Labour Issues in Agriculture

Quick facts on agricultural labour:

Issue overview

Like any industry, agriculture requires an adequate workforce to keep operations going. Farmers continue to identify chronic and critical labour shortages as one of the most pressing risks facing Canadian agriculture and a major constraint on both agricultural growth and global competitiveness. Agriculture is complex industry that faces unique workforce challenges due to rural depopulation and seasonal production of highly perishable products.

Despite the exemptions for primary agriculture on many of the more recent changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) Program, these changes have increased the burden of reporting for producers through the new Labour Market Information Assessment (LMIA) process and have resulted in reduced service for producers seeking work permits and LMIAs. CFA continues to receive feedback from producers across the country indicating that timeframes associated with the existing LMIA and associated Work Permit processes cause complications when attempting to fill urgent labour needs.

Additionally, primary and further processing represents a market for nearly 40% of Canadian farm products, leading CFA to have concern around the implications these changes are having on a sector already struggling to maintain a suitable labour force. With increased costs, delays and reporting burdens as looming consequences from these reforms, CFA is committed to working closely with our supply chain partners to monitor the impact and maintain opportunities for value-addition in the Canadian agri-food industry.

Working toward solutions

CFA continues its work with the Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council (CAHRC), as part of a broad coalition of industry representatives working with government officials towards implementation of the Canadian Agriculture and Agri-food Workforce Action Plan (WAP), a roadmap designed to address the sector’s critical and pervasive labour shortages. The WAP outlines an integrated and permanent labour solution through a series of short, medium, and long-term recommendations.

As a contributing partner to CARHC and the WAP, CFA supports implementation of the WAP which includes the following key recommendations:

Recommendations from the CFA Roundtable on International Worker Programs  

CFA convened a day-long discussion in May 2018 on fostering trust and compliance in Canada’s international farm worker programs. Discussions brought together a broad range of industry, departmental and key elected officials to address fairness and efficiency within the Temporary Foreign Worker Program. The event facilitated a wide-ranging exploration of proposed solutions to  specific concerns.

See also:

CFA brief on workforce issues

Canadian Agriculture and Agri-food Workforce Action Plan


On June 20, 2014, Jason Kenney, Minister of Employment and Social Development at the time announced a comprehensive overhaul of the TFWP. According to the government, the changes intended to serve to help ensure the TFWP is “only used as intended, as a last and limited resort to fill acute labour shortages on a temporary basis when qualified Canadians are not available.”

One of the most substantial changes was the creation of two distinct program streams, in addition to the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program and the Agricultural Stream, which the government said will aid in providing greater clarity and transparency with the employment of foreign workers. The Temporary Foreign Worker Program now pertains to the recruitment of employer-specific foreign workers through a new Labour Market Impact Assessment process, and largely refers to low-skilled/low-wage positions. By July 1, 2016, employers who make use of the TFWP will be subject to a 10% cap on the portion of their labour force per worksite that can consist of low-wage TFWs. This limitation has been phased in over the past two years, with a 30% cap imposed initially, 20% in July 2015 and 10% in July 2016. This has particular relevance to agriculture, despite an exemption for primary agriculture, due to the constraints it will place on primary processing facilities across Canada.

The second program stream is the International Mobility Program, which will include those streams with foreign nationals “whose primary objective is to advance Canada’s broad economic and cultural national interest, rather than filling particular jobs.”

Another notable change has been the replacement of the Labour Market Opinion process with the more rigorous Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA). Under the LMIA, employers are required to provide additional information on the number of Canadians that applied for a particular position, how many Canadians were interviewed and an explanation if the position was not filled by a Canadian applicant.

Regarding the primary agriculture stream, which includes the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP), the Agricultural stream and, in some instances, those seeking on-farm work through the low-wage stream, exemptions have been granted for the following reforms:

Additional facts:

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