National Newswatch

Industry awaits a government response.

Ottawa—The federal government needs to get moving on calls for help with the debilitating labour shortage that is threatening the country’s food manufacturing industry, says Ontario Senator Rob Black.

A group of farm and food companies called in mid-January for an Emergency Foreign Worker Program, Black said in a statement. “Our food manufacturers’ inability to secure a strong and stable workforce affects both Canada’s food security and its economic recovery.” While there has been some government action, the shortages are nowhere near being resolved.

“Canada’s largest manufacturing employer, the food and beverage industry, is facing a debilitating labour shortage that threatens to cripple Canada’s food system as we know it,” he said. “Companies that together employ nearly 300,000 Canadians were reporting vacancies of above 20 per cent, even before absences due to COVID-19.”

If the worker shortage isn’t remedied, Canadians will be limited in what they find on their grocery-store shelves and dinner tables. The communities in which the food plants operate will be harmed economically. While the crisis is multi-faceted, with many economic repercussions to consider, more critical is its potential to jeopardize Canadian food security, affordability and access.

Black said the short term plan could lead to long term solutions “such as introducing pathways to permanent residency specific to workers in food and beverage manufacturing, and piloting a program to direct refugees to the sector.”

The pandemic has compounded a crisis of worker burnout, early retirement, a shortage of skilled tradespeople and workers leaving congregate environments, among other chronic problems.

“The lack of desperately needed labour forces companies to drop product lines, discontinue production, import goods from the U.S., postpone plans to expand, and pause efforts to innovate — measures we surely all agree are unsustainable and not what we expect from our critical infrastructure, especially our domestic food system.

“It’s essential that the government work with the industry to find an immediate solution to food-supply disruptions, while developing long-term solutions to strengthen and enhance our food-manufacturing industry, thereby supporting Canadians for generations to come,” he said.

It is also appalling that in one of the world’s leading agrifood nations, more than four million Canadians, more than a quarter of them children, have had trouble accessing affordable and nutritious food, he said. “This tragic trend is on the rise, and will continue if we don’t fill the labour shortage and remove other obstacles to access to food.”

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