Quebec Orchards Need Temporary Foreign Workers Fast

August 31, 2015 News
A worker on Dean Thomson's farm picks apples during the 2015 harvest. (CBC)

A worker on Dean Thomson’s farm picks apples during the 2015 harvest. (CBC)

Orchards in Quebec are full of apples but the workers to pick the fruit are in short supply. Recent changes to visa processing for temporary foreign workers, is being blamed for the absence, and farmers are worried they’ll loose some of the harvest.

“First they said to me eight weeks, then they said a month later, now it’s 14 weeks,” Réjean Guertin told CBC News. The St-Paul-d’Abbotsford orchard owner said he has a shortage of workers, particularly those from Guatemala, due to the delays.

Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Program was altered this year and the changes are hitting some Quebec farmers very hard.

According to the regulatons, employers can have no more than 20 per cent of their workforce as low-wage temporary foreign workers. And beginning in July 2016. the number will drop to 10 per cent.

Some farmers find apple pickers from Quebec, less efficient than those from Latin America.

Those who don’t comply will face fines ranging from $500 to $100,000 for each violation. The fines are capped at $1 million per year, per employer.

Guertin feels the government doesn’t really care about farmers. “My son said to me that if we don’t have Mexican or Guatemalan workers, we sell the farms. And I’m sure I’m not the only one [having this discussion],” he said.

His neighbour, Dean Thomson, said he’s been working with the same team from Guatemala for seven years. “In July, we found out they’re talking 14–16 weeks, so all our requests done in June, July — we won’t have a permit until November,” Thomson said.

“a bureaucratic error.”

Added to this, he said, several of his trees were damaged by two hail storms this summer. Apples that are damaged or that fall onto the ground are usually used to make juice and other products. But Thomson said, the workers won’t arrive in time to pick the damaged apples. “I mean, now we’re just trying to get out of this year alive,” he said.

For some farmers, apple pickers from Quebec are less efficient than those from Latin America.

Citizenship and Immigration Canada said, in statement, that it’s aware of the situation and is “working to resolve the issue in consultation with the Quebec federation of apple producers.”

“CIC will start expedited processing of work permits for the affected workers, while ensuring the integrity of the program,” the statement said. Federal Conservative Party spokesperson Kevin Menard said, in a separate statement, the worker shortage was due to “a bureaucratic error.”