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How TFWs keep Canadian Agriculture Going

Addressing Labour Shortages in Agriculture through TFWs

By Jean-Paul MacDonald

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) recently highlighted the crucial role that the Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) program plays in supporting Canadian agriculture, a sector that annually contributes $40 billion to the nation's GDP.  

In 2022, labour shortages in agri-businesses resulted in approximately $2.8 billion in lost sales or contracts, underscoring the importance of the TFW program in maintaining the vitality of this critical industry. 

The TFW program enables Canadian agri-businesses to address chronic labour shortages by hiring foreign workers to fill gaps that cannot be met locally.  

These workers are essential not only for meeting production demands but also for ensuring the survival of many agri-businesses, with 92% of businesses relying on them to meet product demand and 89% to stay operational. 

However, hiring foreign workers involves significant investment beyond wages, including costs for transportation, housing, and compliance with regulatory requirements.  

Agri-businesses often rehire the same TFWs annually, highlighting the mutual benefits of the program. Some businesses even assist TFWs in becoming permanent residents, reflecting their value to the industry. 

Despite its benefits, the program faces challenges such as potential poaching and the need for more streamlined processes.  

The CFIB report suggests several improvements: 

  • Reducing red tape, notably by streamlining the Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) process. 

  • Adjusting the housing deduction to reflect real costs and allowing for its indexation. 

  • Compensating employers for compliance costs if an LMIA is not issued. 

  • Permitting the sharing or transferring of foreign workers among employers. 

CFIB also addresses misconceptions about the TFW program, clarifying that foreign workers are paid competitive wages, and that the vast majority are treated well, with regular inspections confirming compliance with health and safety standards. 

To further support the sector, CFIB recommends enhancing pathways to permanent residency for TFWs, which would benefit both workers and employers by promoting a stable and committed workforce. 

As the government considers changes to the TFW program, these recommendations offer a roadmap for ensuring that Canadian agri-businesses continue to thrive while also protecting and supporting the foreign workers who are integral to the industry's success.

See related article: Impact of Bill C-58 on Canadian Workforce and Economy

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