Concern is rippling through Canada’s agriculture sector as the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) labour disruption drags on.
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PSAC represents 155,000 workers, most of whom walked off the job on April 19 after failing to reach a new contract deal with their employers. PSAC members have been working without a contract since June 2021.
Although the bulk of PSAC’s membership are employed by the Treasury Board and Canada Revenue Agency, approximately 3,000 members work in agriculture-related positions.
Why it matters: The PSAC strike is not likely to affect the TFW program, but it is impacting funding dispersal, business risk program applications and grain inspection.
“The agriculture temporary foreign worker (TFW) program should not be affected by anything because it’s got priority,” said Ken Forth, president of Foreign Agriculture Resource Management Services (FARMS). “From where we sit at FARMS, the processing hasn’t slowed down because of the strike. It has not.”
A nationwide conference call on April 26 between agriculture commodities and an Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) representative reconfirmed the priority was still in place, he added.
That same day, Sean Fraser, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada indicated critical services could see severe disruptions if the strike prolongs, adding the immigration backlog is already growing.
Forth said approximately 75 per cent of FARM’s Labour Market Impact Assessments (LMIAs) are processed because they submit them 16 weeks in advance.
Each year FARMS contends with minor glitches in the system even without the strike.
This year the Jamaican government raised the bar for worker health checks tripping up some workers and creating a timeline hiccup.
“That was prior to the strike,” Forth said. “Mexico is doing a way better job; they stepped it up. So, there’s no reason to start wringing our hands just yet.”
Stefan Larrass, senior policy advisor with the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association (OFVGA), said OFVGA producers are concerned a drawn-out strike will scupper the in-flow of TFW and impact business just as they’ve cleared the pandemic.
The nationwide IRCC call allowed commodities to voice their uncertainty regarding those impacts but provided little information on Federal contingency planning.
“(The call) included the impact on business risk management programs, on research funded by the feds,” said Larrass. “But the most relevant part (to OFVGA) was around LMIA and work permit processing.”
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April and May are peak months for TFWs entering Ontario, but Larrass said the monthly arrivals aren’t insignificant into the fall. Advanced worker approvals create a multi-week processing cushion, and Larrass is concerned that will diminish significantly if the labour disruption drags into May.
“At this point, the government has not given us any quiet warning signals that we need to hunker down for a long haul,” he said. “So, at this point, we’re hoping it gets resolved before . . . that four-week pipeline empties.”
Milton Dyck, PSAC Agriculture Union’s national president, said members handling livestock care or payroll are considered essential and are exempt from the walkout.
“For the most part, everybody will be out on the picket line for Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada,” he said, including those overseeing business risk management programs like AgriInvest, AgriStability, Canadian Agricultural Loans Program, and agri-environmental programs. The strike also impacts the Canadian Dairy Commission services and Canadian Grain Commission (CGC) workers, who play critical roles in the grain handling system, including producer payment, outward inspection and export certification of Canadian grains.
As a workaround, the CGC asked grain companies to collect samples for inspection and send them to the commission for official grading and certification. The companies are utilizing their employees or other inspection companies to do so.
Dyck suggested this could compromise the integrity of the samples because unregulated inspectors may be biased compared to a CGC worker’s impartiality.
Additionally, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s website noted programs under the Sustainable Canadian Agricultural Partnership could be impacted, along with the Poultry and Egg On-Farm Investment Program, Wine Sector Support Program and the Youth Employment and Skills Program.
“AAFC will prioritize its essential services to ensure minimal disruptions in those areas,” the department said in an email.
- With files from Karen Briere, Glacier FarmMedia