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  • Migrant worker changes not affecting agriculture
    By Lois Ann Baker - AgriNews Staff Writer

    EASTERN ONTARIO --  Changes to the way migrant workers are being hired along with changes to Canada's Employment Insurance Act could spell trouble for farmers that consistently hire non-Canadians for field workers. The Temporary Foreign Worker Program allows growers to apply to the government for migrant workers to work the fields. The program, jointly managed by the Human Resources and Skills Development Canada and Citizenship and Immigration Canada, comes under the authority of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.

    The Accelerated-Labour Market Opinion (LMO) was launched on April 25, and is expected to reduce the paper burden for employers, strengthen worker protections and enable LMOs to be issued within 10 business days. The new model includes a simplified online application process, faster processing for employers with a good history, random in-depth reviews of employers after LMOs are issued and call centre support for employers. Consent to the post-LMO reviews are mandatory and HRSDC will monitor employer compliance.

    The idea behind the changes are to better meet labour market demands, reduce red tape for employers, strengthen protections for the workers and support economic recovery. The changes are to ensure that job offers are genuine and wages and protection for workers are consistent with Canadian standards. Employers who fail to meet these objectives will be stopped from hiring temporary foreign workers.

    The most noted change that affects Canadians as well as the migrant workers is that unemployed Canadians must be given first crack at the jobs. Sincere efforts on the part of employers to hire Canadians must be proven before they are allowed to apply for foreign workers.

    Minimum advertising requirements for seasonal agricultural workers include advertising on the national Job Bank for a minimum of 14 days and advertising in newspapers, journals, in the community on bulletin boards and internet sites. Advertising must include the company name, job duties, wage range, location of work and nature of the position. In addition to the minimum requirements, employers are encouraged to conduct ongoing recruitment efforts.

    Because of the changes to EI that require unemployed Canadians to accept any reasonable job offer, the government plans to improve the administration of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program with enhanced information sharing with the EI program. The efforts will ensure that foreign workers do not displace Canadian workers. Employment opportunities that would otherwise be filled by the temporary workers will be sent to EI claimants via the Job Alert system.

    Employers are expected to hire available Canadian workers first, and when Canadians are not available, they can apply to hire the foreign workers.

    Local farmer Paul Dentz of Dentz Orchard and Dairy Farm in Iroquois traditionally has hired foreign workers since the 1990s when it became harder to find local people to commit to working for only four months at a time.

    "We just couldn't grow our farm without consistent help," said Dentz. "We grow fruit and vegetables that need to be picked when they are ready, not three days before or three days after."

    Dentz said he had been notified that this year, it was business as usual. His application for migrant workers has already been approved and he currently has 20 migrant workers working for him. Dentz receives his workers through Foreign Agricultural Resource Management Services (FARMS) a non-profit service federally incorporated in 1987 to "facilitate and coordinate the processing of requests for foreign seasonal agricultural workers." The program is also authorized by HRSDC.

    Dentz said that every year he has to get approval by Manpower to apply for the workers.

    "We work long hours," said Dentz, "Strawberry season we work from six in the morning to six at night. Nobody wants to do that." Dentz added that he would have to hire double the amount of local workers to cover the shifts needed.

    Dentz said that it would be hard to enforce the new rules right at the beginning of harvest.

    He estimated that about 20,000 migrant workers work in Ontario every year. "Where would we find that many people to harvest a consistent crop," he said.

    "The whole thing has come about because of the abuse in the EI system," he said, "In my opinion, they are barking up the wrong tree."

    Dentz said the main reason it was so hard to find local workers is that Canadians are looking for jobs that will last all year. "Everybody in this country needs to work year round to make a living," Dentz said,"We need people for four months."

    "For employers that need people for three or four months, where do we find good help to do that?" he asked. Dentz added that times have changed. Back in the 1960s and 70s they used to hire 20 or 30 students in the summer to harvest. He speculated that with the changing times, students don't need the money anymore for whatever reason and they no longer get students asking for work.

    "The system that is in place now is just wonderful and I wouldn't want it changed one bit," he said.

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    Eastern Ontario AgriNews is published on the third Monday of each month. The printed version is distributed free by postal mail to farms in Eastern Ontario, Canada.

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