Demand for foreign farm workers in Okanagan expected to increase | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Demand for foreign farm workers in Okanagan expected to increase

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January 20, 2021 - 11:00 AM

B.C.'s contingent of temporary foreign workers are starting to return to area farms, and this year there are plans in place to ensure that their arrival will be safer.

During the Monday, Jan. 18 COVID-19 update, Dr. Bonnie Henry said of the daily caseload, 13 were people who were who normally reside outside of Canada.

"The majority of those 13 cases were some of our new temporary foreign workers who've come into B.C. for the coming season," Dr. Henry said.

"As you know, we are continuing our program of providing quarantine accommodations in hotels and support for people who have had temporary foreign workers who are coming into B.C. to, to work on farms in the very important role that they play supporting our agriculture industry here in the province."

In the Okanagan, in particular, the role of temporary agricultural workers is top of mind these days.

Farm labour shortages are expected to continue for 2021, Glen Lucas of the BC Fruit Growers Association said in a recent newsletter.

"In addition to COVID-19 challenges, the unemployment rate in Kelowna is very low at 4.6% - the lowest in B.C.," he said. "The availability of local labour and Quebecois workers is expected to remain low this summer. BCFGA placed additional effort and resources into recruiting local workers in 2020, without much success."

Further challenging the workforce, foreign backpackers will continue to face COVID-19 travel restrictions while, at the same time, cherry production is expected to increase significantly from the poor crops of 2019 and 2020.

"More and maturing acres of cherries all add up to an increase in labour demand," Lucas said.

Lucas said industry's need for help far outstripped supply. The Okanagan Seasonal Agriculture Worker Program numbers were down from about 7,500 to 4,250 from 2019 to 2020.

The number of international backpackers who work on farms in the Okanagan declined from 1,500 to 500 from 2019 to 2020. The number of domestic workers, especially from Quebec, were down significantly, between 30 and 50 per cent of 2019 levels, from 1,500 to 750.

Overall decline in working on Okanagan farms was 3,250, to a level that is 57% of the normal workforce in 2019.


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