Meat packing plants disabled by worker shortages
Foreign workers needed because Canadians won’t take the jobs. Ottawa—Meat packing plants have reached an alarming level of worker shortages, says Marie-France MacKinnon, Vice-President of the Canadian Meat Council. Three years ago, the industry was short 1,700 butchers and […]
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Foreign workers needed because Canadians won’t take the jobs.
Ottawa—Meat packing plants have reached an alarming level of worker shortages, says Marie-France MacKinnon, Vice-President of the Canadian Meat Council.
Three years ago, the industry was short 1,700 butchers and now that figure is in the 10,000 range, she told the Commons agriculture committee. The sector kept going through the pandemic and other challenges thanks to its remaining work force augmented by temporary foreign workers (TFWs). It could hire.
The sector has worked for years to get the federal government to agree to an agrifood immigration pilot rather the current system that allows only 10 per cent of jobs to be held by TFWs, she said. “All meat processors would love nothing more than to hire a Canadian. It would be a lot easier, and you can’t imagine the financial and time burden that would be alleviated.
“Canadians just don’t want to work in meat plants, so we’re stuck with using this temporary foreign worker program, yet there’s nothing temporary about jobs in our sector. Our jobs are full time. They are permanent. We’re mostly all unionized. A Canadian and a temporary foreign worker have the same pay, the same benefits and the same chances for advancement.”
Meat plants face a 20 per cent to 35 per cent job vacancy rate, so the 10 per cent TFW rule doesn’t quite cut it, she said. “This cap is really limiting our ability to have made-in-Canada protein. It means more meat being processed in the U.S. and more food imports for Canada.
“Picture a beef or pork shipment to another country. Well, in that container, you might as well add jobs, rural growth, economic growth and lost GDP, because we’re not just exporting meat. We’re sending jobs to other countries when we could actually be doing more value-added cuts here and grow our exports. This cap is capping our processing capacity and our sector’s growth potential. It’s an economic issue for Canada.”
Now more than ever, the industry needs some relief, she said. “We came to government with a solution. We’ve presented our solution, but we needed results yesterday. Our empty butcher stations aren’t just affecting us. The impact is from farm to fork, from producer all the way to consumer.”
Rick Bergmann, Chair of the Canadian Pork Council said about 70 per cent of domestic hog production is exported in the form of live animals to the U.S. and meat worldwide with a value of more than $5 billion in 2021.
The labour shortage in the packing plants is critical, he said. “The processing facilities are shutting down due to the labour shortage, forcing producers to find other options, requiring longer distances to travel and, of course, higher costs. I believe this is actually the straw that breaks the camel’s back forcing some of them to leave the sector.”
As well, producers are struggling with a significant shortage of trained livestock drivers as well as trucks and trailers that is getting worse, he said.