Quick facts on agricultural labour:
- Pre-Covid, studies on Canadian vacancies in primary agriculture suggest Canadian farms currently faced a labour gap of 63,000 positions in 2018. This has been predicted to increase to 123,000 by 2029.
- CAHRC estimates that labour shortages during COVID resulted in 2.9 billion in lost sales, equivalent to roughly 4.2% of the sector’s total.
- Nearly all vacant positions are filled by international agricultural workers, despite robust advertising and hiring efforts by Canadian farmers.
- 4 in 10 agriculture employers surveyed were not able to find all the workers they needed.
- More than two in three employers, reporting labour shortages, said they received fewer Canadian applications.
- The greenhouse, nursery and floriculture sectors are the largest users of foreign labour, as they have no mechanical alternative to pick their products.
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.
This issue has been further exacerbated by COVID-19, which saw global travel restrictions. While the government has allowed temporary foreign workers into the country and helped farmers fund the two-week quarantine period upon entry, these workers have arrived in less numbers than usual and not in a timely fashion due to delays and need to quarantine.
COVID has shown that a reliance on foreign labour represents a large vulnerability when travel is restricted, and a National Agri-Food Labour and Automation Strategy will be needed to help combat these problems long-term.
Working toward solutions
In relation to COVID-19, CFA continues to monitor and give input on measures to protect Temporary Foreign Workers, as well as identifying policy issues and roadblocks that are limiting farmers from accessing interested and otherwise available international labour.
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 a National Agri-Food Labour and Automation Strategy, designed to address the sector’s critical and pervasive labour shortages.
- Develop a National Agri-Food Labour and Automation Strategy, which would include
- Investments to improve awareness of careers in agriculture.
- Streamlining the temporary Foreign Worker Program and improving immigration options for sector worker to become Canadian permanent residents.
- Skills training opportunities, with human resource management training and certification demonstrating quality practices for training, retention, recruitment and staff management.
- Strategic investments to support adoption of labour-saving technologies and automation.
- Create a dedicated Canadian agriculture and agri-food workforce program to provide consistent and efficient access to international agriculture workers
- Ensure that farmers continue to have access to international labour and have clear guidelines and supports to address workplace safety in light of COVID-19.
Further information on the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, including its history and relationship to Canadian agriculture, can be found here.