Increased need for foreign agricultural workers

With the labor shortage, temporary Latin American workers are becoming more and more essential to agricultural producers. However, this new reality will require adaptations, according to a report tabled this fall.

"The administrative and human resource management challenges are constantly on the increase," said a report produced this fall for the Agriculture Labor Manpower Sector Committee by the private firm AGÉCO.

"Among these challenges, we can note problems of intimidation and harassment between workers, conflicts between clans, management of transport for medical visits, illiteracy which poses a significant communication obstacle, housing management ..."

In 2018, no less than 15,399 temporary foreign workers (TFWs) joined the teams of more than 1,200 agricultural businesses in Quebec. The vast majority came from Mexico and Guatemala.

The Sectoral Committee, also known as Agricarrières, is affiliated with the Union des producteurs agricoles. Every five years, he commissions a portrait of the workforce in the field.

From the outset, the document stresses that "the need to hire foreign workers is growing, and [that] this growth should intensify". In fact, it is estimated that in 2029, the labor deficit will rise to 19,000 positions.

In the past, this workforce was mainly used by berry or vegetable producers. However, it is used more and more in animal production, note the authors of the study.

"Dairy farms are the biggest advance in the recruitment of these workers," it is said, noting that they are mainly used for milking and barn work. Conversely, several market gardeners surveyed as part of the study criticize young foreign workers for being less productive than those they recruited in the past.

Eager to stay

As part of the research, nearly 200 foreign workers answered a questionnaire in Spanish. Among the latter, 62% said they were not paid enough for the extent of their tasks and more than a third said they did not have enough rest and break time.

The average hourly wage in agriculture in 2018 was $ 17.91 an hour. This is more than 38% better than a decade ago ($ 12.94), but still below the average for all workers.

The study also finds that "pressure is felt" among foreign workers and that they "ignore" their rights (more than 70% of those surveyed). They more often happen to be victims of accidents, as Le Devoir revealed in May.

Interviews with producers also revealed that, on large farms, "clans would sometimes be present, and there would be more cases of harassment, which would sometimes lead to episodes of verbal or physical violence between workers".

However, the survey reveals that a majority would like to take training to improve their skills and that 83% would like to continue working in Quebec. The authors add that a "high proportion" would like to apply for immigrant status.

The latter data should be analyzed with caution, according to the authors, since the respondents are unaware of the immigration system. They conclude, however, that "the interest expressed by some TFWs in moving towards a landed immigrant status must [...] be heard" and that "actions can be taken to support such an approach".

Finally, producers have been very critical of the long delays with the federal government to get approval for the arrival of this workforce. In 2018-2019, these delays were twice as long as the previous year, the processing of files having gone from 21 to 42 days on average.

In a more positive light, the study reports on many "innovative" initiatives. Thus, a greenhouse production company has partnered with a health cooperative "to facilitate medical appointments for its TFWs, and at the same time, offer access to a family doctor to all its employees".

The survey also mentions that several producers are fluent in Spanish and therefore want to offer more training and even CPR courses in Spanish to their employees.

Source: Le Devoir

Back to news list