Okanagan orchards and farms still short on labour after foreign workers allowed - InfoNews

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Okanagan orchards and farms still short on labour after foreign workers allowed

Tractors assist helicopters from the ground, driving with blowers up and down each row.
March 21, 2020 - 10:35 AM

The executive director of the B.C. Fruit Growers’ Association is relieved that foreign workers will be able to work in the Okanagan, but also concerned about what lies ahead for Quebec workers and backpackers.

Currently Canada is only allowing permanent residents, Canadian citizens and Americans to enter its borders. The U.S. and Canada are allowing only “essential” travel between the two countries. An exemption to air travel restrictions for foreign workers was announced, March 20, by the federal government.

These exemptions include seasonal agricultural workers, fish/seafood workers, caregivers and all other temporary foreign workers, international students who held a valid study permit or had been approved for a study permit when the travel restrictions took effect on March 18, 2020 and permanent resident applicants who had been approved for permanent residence before the travel restrictions were announced on March 16, 2020, but who had not yet travelled to Canada.

“Certainly it’s good news, and we don’t know the full details that will be required so there’s some work ahead of us,” said Glen Lucas, executive director with the BCFGA.

“We’re also in a bit of a catch-up mode… as the system stopped for a week so we need to get it going again.”

The Okanagan fruit industry employs about 4,500 Mexican and Caribbean workers through the Temporary Foreign Workers program, Lucas said. The bulk of those are needed for harvest season, which starts in June for cherries.

However, they will need to hire local workers due to the uncertainty with backpackers and Quebec residents who normally work in the orchards, Lucas said.

“There’s no regulation (for Quebec residents), they can come and work when they want so we don’t know about that,” he said, adding they may choose to work with other employers and not in the fruit industry.

Farms and orchards get help from roughly 1,500 backpackers and 1,500 Quebec residents each year.

READ MORE: Foreign workers for Okanagan farms, orchards still aren't allowed to travel to Canada

“In addition to the travel exemptions, a temporary modification is being made to the Labour Market Impact Assessment process for agriculture and food processing employers, as the required two-week recruitment period will be waived for the next six months,” according to the Government of Canada in a news release.

The government is "also increasing the maximum allowable employment duration for workers in the low-wage stream of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program from one to two years. This will improve flexibility and reduce the administrative burden for employers, including those in food processing.”

If you're interested in working in the fruit industry search online through Job Bank, Lucas said.


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