With a lack of temporary foreign workers able to enter the country during the virus crisis, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney told a recent conference call with Alberta weekly newspapers that Canada’s agricultural industry should mirror what some European counties are doing during these tough times.
“The [British] government did a call for what they call a ‘land army,’ and tens of thousands of Brits are now, for the first time in generations, back on the farm helping the farmers operate,” Kenney said. “I think this an opportunity for us to reimagine the labour market for many of our ag businesses.”
But few Albertan farm operators believe an army of local workers will rally to replace foreign farmhands, despite record unemployment that has hit 13 per cent in Alberta and could go higher.
The Alberta government has set up a portal that lets farmers post jobs. Prospective employees can apply for those jobs or post resumés.
However, some farmers who have tried said jobs were turned down because of the type of work and pay.
“It’s very hard to hire locals,” said Albert Cramer, president of the Alberta Greenhouse Growers Association.
“If you look at the past, it’s not do-able.”
Cramer said while people might be looking for work now, the situation could change over the next few weeks or months.
If people can go back to their previous jobs, he questioned if they would stay working in agriculture.
“We’re on the end of the food chain. People don’t want to do this kind of work,” he said.
“We could hire locals now, but how long does that last?”
Bridgeview Gardens Shaftesbury, which grows vegetables and strawberries near Peace River, Alta., is looking to employ 10 people.
Mike Marusiak, who owns the operation, said he’s been having a difficult time getting information from the government about temporary foreign workers.
He said the industry relies heavily on them because they are dependable. Without them, he said the horticulture industry would collapse.
He said he is unsure how the pandemic will affect his ability to hire more local people.
“Previous years I would go through a page of locals that wanted to work, but within a couple days, due to it being hard manual labour, my labour pool was no longer,” he said.