Agri-businesses call for multi-employer permits in TFW program overhaul

CFIB research shows 59% of agri-businesses support sharing foreign workers to address labour shortages

Agri-businesses call for multi-employer permits in TFW program overhaul

As Ottawa plans to overhaul its Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) program, 59 percent of agri-businesses support a multi-employer work permit option, enabling employers to share foreign workers.

Research by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) reveals that most agribusiness owners do not favour sectoral or regional work permits, fearing these could facilitate employee poaching and hinder retention.

“While government is reviewing its TFW program, it needs to consider the practical needs of agri-businesses and the future of Canada's food security,” said Juliette Nicolaÿ, CFIB's policy analyst.

“Farmers are already struggling with chronic staffing shortages and when they turn to foreign labour, it's only as a last resort because they can't find anyone locally. That's concerning given Canada's ageing population and a perceived lack of interest among Canadian workers in a career in agriculture.”

CFIB data found that three in ten agri-businesses hired foreign workers in 2023. The reliance on foreign workers is more pronounced in regions like Quebec (51 percent) and sub-sectors such as fruits, vegetables, and horticultural specialties (64 percent).

According to Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC), among employers who hired TFWs, 92 percent said foreign workers helped them meet demand for their products or services, while 89 percent said that TFWs helped them stay in business.

Myths Surrounding TFWs

Misconceptions about the program include beliefs that TFWs are not paid sufficient wages or are mistreated by employers. In fact, 85 percent of TFWs are paid the same wage as Canadians, and only 3.5 percent are paid less.

The federal government conducts regular inspections to ensure the health and safety of foreign workers, with 94 percent of employers inspected found compliant on 26 different criteria, according to ESDC.

“While there may be isolated bad actors that should not be tolerated, agri-businesses highly value foreign workers, and they take time and effort to bring TFWs to Canada. They cover costs that go beyond wages like housing, transport, and health care. It is also common for farmers to have the same TFWs come back year after year. Some also sponsor foreign workers to become permanent residents,” said Francesca Basta, CFIB's research analyst.

Recommendations for Improvement

To improve the TFW program's efficiency, the federal government should consider:

  • Reducing red tape associated with hiring TFWs, notably streamlining the Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) process
  • Allowing for the sharing or transferring of foreign workers as an option (e.g., multi-employer work permit)
  • Indexing the housing deduction to inflation, currently $30, which does not reflect real housing prices
  • Allowing employers to match the wages offered by another employer with an LMIA in the same area to strengthen retention and curtail poaching. Provisions under the Employer Compliance Regime currently limit this.
  • Reimbursing the employer for the costs associated with the administration and enforcement of the compliance inspection, should the LMIA not be issued
  • Introducing a mechanism to compensate initial costs covered by the employer whose employee has been poached and streamlining access to new TFWs.