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Canadian Meat Plants seek Permanent Residency for Migrant Workers

November 2017, 27
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There is a permanent labor shortage in Canadian meat industry. It is seeking ease to access permanent residency for its migrant workers.

There is a lot of work in the Meats processing but there is immense difficulty to find people to fill up all the advertised positions.   There are several empty slots in the production line, with positions remaining unfilled.

Some of the plants' process 30,000 hogs a week, and slaughter the swine, derind debone and slice them, in proper sizes for use in local grocery chains and also for export to Japan and China.

The nature of the industry is peculiar and there are many difficulties to attract and retain persons in it. There are a few temporary foreign workers, but the task happens for the entire year and they are required to stay in the jobs permanently.

Canada has a $6 billion meat processing industry. Earlier the mushroom growers, who generate $1 billion in annual sales and employ over 4000 people requested for a similar permanent residency for its migrant workers. Both industries experience permanent labor shortages and are located mainly in rural areas.  Canada has an aging population, and the Migrant workers, are a lifeline, complementing the workforce, to keep the process running.

Canada relies on migrant workers in the agricultural and food sector and the lack of getting a permanent residency status exposes the workers to exploiting working conditions.

There are 66,330 people employed in the meat industry today, and Ron Davidson, spokesperson, Canadian Meat Council, said that around 2,000 of them were migrant workers. A survey of large meat plants of the country estimated that the shortage was around 1,500 workers. The unionized industry has a pay scale between $14 and $18 an hour for both foreign and local workers.  The meat-cutters, with full-time positions, have dental, medical, and eye care coverage besides retirement pensions. Despite these amenities, there is a persistent labor gap.

The people are not interested to move to rural areas and a slaughterhouse cannot be located in a city. Offering a Skill Development Program did not work owing to the lack of interest. It needed skills and food safety knowledge and all people cannot do it. It requires a lot of training. There is no tariff and quota for importing meat and the need of the day is to be globally competitive.

Jennefer Griffith, Executive Director, Food Processing Human Resources Council, said that the temporary worker program was not proper to fix to the labor gap and the Government must change the policy and bring low-skilled workers as permanent residents to solve it. The meat industry is not a popular industry and requires physicality. Many people are uninterested.

In the past, the application fee payable by employers for migrant workers was raised from $200 to $1,000 and a cap of 10 percent of foreign workers was placed on the workforce of a company.

The present immigration system makes it difficult for butchers to attain the status of permanent residents. There is a stressful situation as even skilled butchers cannot become PRs.

Companies have to submit a new Labour-Market-Impact Assessment Application to renew the work permits given to migrant workers, every year. The process is tiresome and requires the job advertising to Canadians and also filling volumes of forms. The permit extension can be refused and the decisions are greatly subjective.

Many companies have taken steps to attract and retain workers from Canada like relocation assistance, bus facilities, reaching out to new communities for recruiting, expansion of the Human Resources Department, improvement of all services and initiating leadership development training. The general feeling is that the foreign workers supplement the workforce. There is a need for stability to have a fast pace of growth. The foreign workers have come to Canada and deserve all the opportunities to stay, work and prosper here.

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