Attention to details helps foreign worker application process

Producers must be aware of the myriad regulations they must comply with to be eligible to seek foreign labour

Three small-group meetings are planned in November for pork producers in southwestern Ontario to learn about applying to hire staff under the federally regulated Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP).

Why it matters: Recruiting and maintaining good-quality staff has been an ongoing challenge in the hog sector. The TFWP is commonly used to help meet this challenge.

At the annual Shakespeare Swine Seminar, Andrea De Groot managing director with the Ontario Pork Industry Council (OPIC) explained that TFWP’s Agriculture Stream positions are split into two categories: low-skilled and high-skilled. Low skilled denotes general farm labourers, while high-skilled includes managerial positions, as well as service contractors, supervisors, and specialized livestock workers. Two-year contracts are specified, and it’s described as a “needs-based program,” meaning applications are only approved if a lack of available Canadian labour has been shown.

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Domestic availability was one of a handful of big issues last year when Auditor General Michael Ferguson called on the Employment and Social Development Department to step up inspections, enforcement and penalties on TFWP employer participants.

But the focal points of the investigation leading to that report didn’t include agriculture.

“In this region, with two-and-a-half per cent unemployment, it shouldn’t be too hard to prove you can’t find a Canadian for the job,” De Groot commented.

The right to seek out a foreign worker comes in the form of the approval of a Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA). Many pork producers already using the program say there’s a significant backlog for getting LMIA applications assessed.

“This is where we’re running into a lot of challenges right now,” she said. It currently seems to take between 2.5 to three months to hear back. “But it’s actually getting better, if you can believe it.”

It used to commonly take 3.5 to four months. Add to that the six months it generally takes to secure the services of a worker, and it’s a long process.

De Groot said the most important advice she had was to be consistent when it comes to advertising the job.

The job must be advertised locally and for two weeks on a national job board.

“I want to be clear that this is an exercise in cut-and-paste. You can’t change any words; you can’t change any details” in the advertisement that appears locally and the one that appears nationally or later in the LMIA application.

“If the wording changes from one ad to another, you’ll be turned down. And you’ll have to go back to the beginning and apply again.”

Plus, the ad must contain “more than just ‘I have a job at a swine farm. Here’s my number. Let’s talk’.” The company name and location of business must be included, along with a job title, job duties, and skills required. De Groot warned against including a 911 address and said producers should specify the nearby community.

Housing inspected in detail

As well, producers must be aware of the law when it comes to proving they can provide suitable, acceptable housing. Such proof is required before an LMIA is approved.

Factors to consider are numerous, ranging from distance of the building to any livestock facility, height of walls, rodent control requirements, square metres of total usable area and sleeping area per person, plumbing installations per person, and positioning of beds. Adding to the complexity is the fact that, in the case of some measurements, the requirement varies from one county to the next.

“From my understanding … they’ll actually measure everything,” the OPIC managing director said, adding that not just a tape measure but also a thermometer to check the fridge will be used.

“I say that as a warning that you need to take the time to take these requirements seriously.”

If a farm hires foreign workers both under the high-skilled and low-skilled category, she advises against housing them together. Allowable room-and-board rates are different for the two categories, and there’s potential for strife if two people are being charged differently to live in the exact same building.

One question from the audience addressed the risk of the person disliking the job and leaving before the two-year contract is up. De Groot responded the farmer is still required to pay for the person’s flight home (as they would be under normal circumstances), but if the person refuses to leave the country, it’s not the farmer’s concern.

“There have been some issues with this,” she said, adding this also includes instances when the person is fired with just cause that has been successfully proven. “Sometimes (the departed worker) doesn’t want to go home. But it becomes Service Canada’s issue then.” The farmer, meanwhile, can begin a new LMIA application.

OPIC and Ontario Pork will co-host the workshops Nov. 7 in Listowel, Nov. 14 in Innerkip, and Nov. 21 in Watford. Registration is required.

About the author

Contributor

Stew Slater operates a small dairy farm on 150 acres near St. Marys, Ont., and has been writing about rural and agricultural issues since 1999.

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