Why action is needed now on the labour crisis impacting Canada’s food sector!


The Problem

Food and beverage is Canada’s largest manufacturing employer, with almost 300,000 workers. The industry is facing a debilitating workforce crisis, with companies across the country reporting vacancies of 20% and more. Food and beverage manufacturing was already experiencing labour challenges prior to COVID-19, but the strain of the pandemic has exacerbated the situation and the sector now requires an urgent solution.

Food and beverage manufacturing’s labour crisis is driven by issues such as an aging and retiring workforce; a shortage of skilled trades people (such as millwrights, maintenance electricians, and butchers); and significant workforce changes driven by COVID-19 which have led to workers leaving the sector as they reassess their work-life balance or simply burn out.

Despite aggressive recruitment initiatives to fill vacancies it has been impossible to find enough Canadians to fill food and beverage manufacturing jobs. Recruiting staff to work in the sector, where jobs often include shift work and challenging physical environments, can be extremely difficult. As other sectors also face labour challenges, we are now all competing for the same scarce workers.

The Impact

The inability to secure a strong and stable workforce is impacting food security and economic recovery and is undermining the sector’s ability to support a domestic agriculture and food system.

Labour shortages are being faced across all products, company sizes, and regions. Without sufficient workers, companies are dropping product lines, discontinuing production, importing products from the United States, adding overtime shifts (leading to burn out of a workforce that was already facing additional strains due to the pandemic), postponing plans to expand and pausing efforts to innovate production. All of this is to the detriment of the communities where plants currently operate and serve as a source of employment for many residents.

Although food and beverage processing is only one of several sectors undergoing labour shortages, the inability to meet current labour needs will have an impact on domestic food security and food affordability, and the ability of Canadians to readily access the food they want. An increase in food costs will be an added challenge around inflation costs that have already increased the cost of living.

The Solution

The food and beverage manufacturing sector needs immediate relief from this labour crisis. In November, industry met with Canada’s federal-provincial-territorial (FPT) Agriculture Ministers and asked that they take immediate steps to alleviate the labour crisis facing the food and beverage manufacturing sector over the coming 18 months.

As the labour problem worsens, Canada’s leading food and beverage manufacturing associations are working together to ask the federal government to implement an Emergency Foreign Worker Program by January 31, 2022, at the latest. This Program should remain in place for 18 months, through to summer 2023, during which time more permanent and long-term solutions to industry’s labour issues should be identified and phased in.

The Emergency Foreign Worker Program should include the following temporary changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) Program:

1. CAP: Immediately reset the TFW CAP at 30% to allow more food and beverage manufacturing workers to be employed under the program.

2. Processing Times/Capacity: Implement measures to increase TFW application processing capacity and reduce processing times.

3. Supports for Smaller Businesses: Immediately pilot an expedited application process for small and mid-sized businesses or implement centralized processing of TFW applications for a selection of NOC codes applicable to the sector.

The Emergency Foreign Worker Program should also include the following measures to address the need for permanent workers in the sector.

4. Pathways to Permanent Residency: Introduce immediate pathways to permanent residency for TFWs through a new Pathways to Permanence Program for Food and Beverage Manufacturing Workers.

5. Direct Refugees to the Sector: Implement a pilot program with industry that directs refugees to the food and beverage manufacturing sector.

This proposed Emergency Foreign Worker Program is the result of coordination and alignment across industry, and has the support of association’s including Food and Beverage Canada, Le Conseil de la transformation alimentaire du Québec (CTAQ), the Canadian Poultry and Egg Processors Council, Food and Beverage Ontario, the Canadian Meat Council, BC Food & Beverage, the Canadian Produce Marketing Association, the Baking Association of Canada, Food & Beverage Manitoba, and Food & Beverage Atlantic. Together, our associations represent Canada’s domestic food and beverage manufacturing sector.