Food In Canada


Canadian Meat Council puts out urgent call for skilled labour

The CMC says a nation-wide shortage of butchers, meat cutters and labourers threatens Canadian producers, meat packers, processors, competitiveness and rural communities

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 Steak199x300fails 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.

Good jobs

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.

For more on the issue, click here.

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Deanna Rosolen

Deanna Rosolen

Managing Editor, Food in Canada
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  1. Kelly says:

    Let’s be honest here. The Canadian Meat Council is currently lobbying the government to make their industry exempt from the latest TFWP reforms. Press releases like this are a part of this effort and don’t reflect the reality of working in this industry.
    The truth is that they bring the foreign workers because they are cheap, not skilled. Look at the job vacancies posted and you’ll see that almost all of them are entry level and require on-the-job training at the most. Some of them don’t even require knife work! Furthermore believe it or not these used to be middle-class jobs. Now despite increases in worker productivity over the years, real wages have actually declined compared to 20 or 30 years ago. TFW are a way of maintaining the new status quo of lower wages with higher line speeds and injury rates. Fatigued workers being made to work faster and faster also results in more miss-cuts and fecal contamination as well ala Lakeside Packers recall. Do you think they have time to stop the line if they see this contamination? Do you think they have time to always sanitize their knives between each carcass? What happens when Canadian employees refuse to go along with this lowering of standards? I think you know what happens (they just replace you with a compliant TFW). Do you still think the TFWP is a good thing in this industry?

  2. regularjoe says:

    responding to kelly. There is no such thing as cheap jobs. the foreign worker has to be paid the same amount as a canadian or the LMO is not approved. it costs more to hire a tfw since the flight here and back has to be paid by the employer as well as the health insurance.It is the meat inspection staff’s responsibility to set line speed or shut it off if there is any kind of contamination happening. this is a government employee not a plant employee so don’t blame this on the packer. what industry in canada has not had to increase line speed to stay alive? very few canadians want this job as it is hard manual labour and it requires you to get your hands dirty.
    this job will be done by a foreign worker whether you like it or not. either in canada by a tfw who pays taxes here or when there is not enough staff here the meat will go to the united states(yes the united states is a foreign country) to be slaughtered or we will be importing cheap meat from other countries to fill the store shelves.check the cheap chicken you are buying now and see what country it comes from.
    if the meat is processed in canada the government is responsible for the inspection and quality coming out of the canadian plant you won’t get the same quality from another country. the packers pay taxes in canada. the tfw pay taxes in canada. The work will be done by a foreign worker regardless so why not have it done by one that will generate more jobs and taxes in our own country??

  3. Truthiness says:

    As longs as Big Box and the largeretailers continue to abuse the small supplier you will see a depleting inventory of Federally Registered Plants. We have permitted the MLF’s to abuse the system and their co-packers and NOW we see this propaganda??? Regular Joe, apparently you don’t know very much – the d’s in Vegerville don’t have a clue of what happens after the LMO is approved – take a trip to SK and see what is happening in the farm implement manufacturing businesses that have numerous folks from se asia – the first things that get paid are the housing and costs associated with that before food goes on the table – and yes the employee owns that. The useless Municipalities pay a blind eye to such actions as do the gov’ts (i.e. Saskatoon, Melfort, Regins, Prince Albert, Yorkton, Tisdale, Martensville,etc. etc.)

  4. regularjoe says:

    well Truthiness stop shopping at the big box stores and large retailers and your problem will be solved. small guys tend to buy local.But I am betting you don’t want to pay what is needed to make these guys viable. I may not know much but i know a little more than you do on this subject. True i am not aware of what happens out west however in ontario the application for the lmo has to include the cost of housing that will be passed on so it is subject to approval with the LMO. there is also a limit percentage wise of your salary that can be deducted for housing. Every province has different rules for this but that is how it works in Ontario.
    I have No doubt that the MLF’s can’t find experienced meat cutters in Canada. i am aware of only one school in the entire country that teaches a course in meat cutting and that’s in Alberta.
    other countries teach it in schools and actually give out degree’s in this sector. If you want to complain about something complain about the lack of education for careers that require physical labour in this country.Not everything can be done with a computer degree.
    have you tried to hire a meat cutter in your part of the country? you are comparing the farm machinery business with meat cutting? please change your name to guessiness.

  5. Les says:

    The wages are low ,for the cost of living pay more and make it a trade red seal and you might get more interest.

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