OFA: Foreign worker disruption could have devastating impact on food system

Special to WC Online

ONTARIO – The Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) appreciates the government’s swift action to protect the health and safety of our citizens and communities. 

“We recognize and embrace the need to take every reasonable precaution to address the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic and protect the health of all Canadians and we are a committed partner in developing solutions,” OFA President Keith Currie released in a statement today (March 18). “We urge the federal government to take great care and deliberation when making decisions that will immediately and significantly impact our food supply and food security. Food security is key for all Canadians and we depend on a stable, affordable and safe food supply, year-round. The continuous production and distribution of food products through our supply chain networks is even more critical in a crisis situation such as the one we are currently facing today.”

Recent news that the arrival of temporary foreign workers and seasonal agricultural workers will be significantly disrupted or stopped will have a devastating impact on the productivity of our entire food system – from horticulture and livestock through to meat and vegetable processing sectors in Ontario.

“With spring nearly here, farmers are ready to plant their 2020 crops, and they must have a stable workforce for the entire growing and processing season,” Currie said. “Our industry has seasonal agricultural workers scheduled to return to Canada and we need absolute certainty that they will be able to return to work.”

The farm and food processing sectors face unique challenges in Ontario and across the country that impact the ability to attract and retain a local workforce. Work is often temporary and seasonal by nature. The national labour shortage in the agriculture industry is approximately 60,000 workers, and most often the only option available to fill this are the approximately 45,000 seasonal and temporary foreign workers that come from Mexico and the Caribbean. Ontario alone is expecting approximately 20,000 workers to arrive in Canada in coming weeks to assist with spring preparation and planting as well as work in our processing plants.

“Without these key individuals the production year and local processing capacity could be lost,” Currie said. “If this workforce is not available to our industry, Canadians will have limited access to fresh produce in our peak growing season as farm businesses deal with the loss of valued team members who are skilled, trained and trusted farm employees.”

It will impact the availability of pickled, canned and frozen vegetables in the coming year. It will impact the ability of processors to ensure a steady supply and distribution of high-quality meat and meat products. Ontario farm and food processing businesses rely on these employees to bring their products to market. Without this workforce, the increased demand for imported products will almost certainly increase consumer costs, reduce food security, and could threaten the nutritional health of Canadians.

“Agriculture and agri-food stakeholders are ready and available to come to the table to work with federal and Ontario governments to quickly develop and coordinate a plan for the arrival of foreign workers,” Currie said. “We understand the importance of implementing critical safeguards and protocols to protect the health of all Canadians. The agriculture industry is prepared to support and implement the identified health protocols to facilitate the return of incoming workers including pre-screening, monitoring and respecting the self-isolation process. We want to be a part of developing solutions.”

Print Friendly, PDF & Email