Ottawa – A shortage of butchers, meat cutters and labourers in Canada is curtailing the prospects of the livestock and meat sector and is restricting the economies of rural municipalities, says the Canadian Meat Council (CMC).
The CMC says the issue is urgent and adds that Canada’s immigration program also fails to address the need for special or semi-skilled workers.
Immigration policies a huge factor
In a statement issued in January, the CMC says Canada requires an immigration program that permits access to foreign workers who have specialized knowledge and skills.
The CMC adds that the meat industry has asked the government that butchers and meat cutters be eligible immediately for inclusion in Canada’s new Express Entry program.
In recent years, says the CMC, the industry has witnessed a marked decline in the proportion of Canadians willing to work in the industry as well as a decision by the federal government to select higher-skilled immigrants.
The government’s policy decision has severely restricted access not only to candidates for starting positions as labourers, but also to new immigrants who might possess high-demand special skills such as those of butchers and meat-cutters. On top of that, there’s an aging workforce in Canada.
All these factors have led to a decrease in the availability of both Canadians and new immigrants who are able and willing to work in the industry.
And it’s not a bad industry to work in. In Canada it’s highly unionized. Rates of pay have been increasing faster than inflation, and the jobs often come with employer sponsored employee benefits.
To help attract more potential employees, the industry has also asked the government to facilitate awareness of work opportunities through government databases as well as direct communication with those who are actively seeking employment.
The CMC says the meat industry alone is advertising for 1,000 workers who are required urgently to staff currently vacant work stations. One employer may offer as many as 250 positions.
The positions offered in the meat industry are all permanent. But considering the shortage of applicants and the few immigrants there are with butcher and meat-cutter knowledge and skills, the meat industry has had to supplement there domestic recruitment initiatives with workers accessed through the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP).
Effects on industry
But restrictions on access to labour are having a toll on employers. For instance, the meat industry has experienced:
• an inability to staff work stations that are currently empty; • an inability to back-fill positions that become vacant as work permits for temporary foreign workers expire;
• an inability to recruit sufficient workers to fill vacancies that arise as the result of natural worker turnover; and
• an inability to envisage additional shifts, new value-added products, or enhanced export opportunities.
The results? Canadian meat packers and processors are:
• reducing or curtailing the production of value- added items;
• diverting specialty meats to lower value rendering rather than harvesting them for export;
• forfeiting existing and new export opportunities;
• decreasing profitability, competitiveness and business sustainability; and
• increasing the number of Canadian jobs that are being placed at risk.
As a consequence, livestock producers sell fewer animals at lower prices to Canadian meat packers and become more dependent upon export sales to U.S. meat processors.
But by exporting livestock rather than processing them in Canada, the industry is effectively transporting jobs and economic opportunity. Not to mention jeopardizing the competitiveness of the Canadian livestock and meat sector.
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