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Ag Labour Task Force elects new Chair

January 29, 2015 - The Agriculture and Agri-Food Labour Task Force (LTF) has elected Mark Wales as its new Chairperson and is moving forward with the recommendations of its Agriculture and Agri-Food Labour Action Plan to address agricultural industry worker shortages.

“It is my pleasure to chair the Labor Task Force. We have a broad-based, growing group representing all commodities and value chains and we are rolling up our sleeves, coming together to work on solutions for agriculture and agri-food labour shortages,” says Wales. “Through the Labour Action Plan we have a roadmap forward addressing our workforce shortages which have been identified as the number one risk affecting the agriculture and agri-food industry today.”

Wales, a horticulture farmer from Elgin County, Ont., is also the Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council (CAHRC) Chair, representing the Ontario Federation of Agriculture.

The Labour Task Force was established by the Agriculture and Agri-Food (AAFC) Value Chain Roundtables in 2012 to examine issues of agriculture and agri-food labour management and shortages; recently the LTF transitioned to become a CAHRC Committee.  Participation in the AAFC Value Chain Roundtable process and composition of the LTF is made up of a diverse cross-section of agricultural representatives covering everything from primary production, lobster and meat processing to ornamental horticulture production. These agriculture and agri-food value chains are a powerful driver of the Canadian economy representing eight per cent of the GDP. 

The LTF released the Labour Action Plan with practical and achievable recommendations last spring and support for the Plan’s implementation has now grown to 45 industry partners. The group is working on an update to the Policy and Programs section of the Labour Action Plan, including a review of changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program as it relates to agriculture and agri-food.

“We always recruit and hire Canadian domestic workers first,” says Mark Chambers, the LTF Policy and Programs Working Group Chair, who is Production Manager for Sunterra Farms, a family owned pork operation in Acme, Alberta. “However, finding workers to work and live in small rural communities is very challenging.  We need more workers to meet current production demands and to take advantage of export opportunities offered by new free trade deals.

“Labour shortages are pervasive, affecting current operational success,” says Wales. “Canadian producers’ incomes depend on agriculture’s value-added advantage and Canadian consumers depend on us for healthy, reasonably priced food.  To allow for continued prosperity and growth for our industry and the broader Canadian economy, it is urgent and essential that we continue to move forward with the Labour Action Plan to find short, medium and long term solutions.” 

As the overarching organization for farm labour in Canada, CAHRC is also conducting research on agricultural Labour Market Information (LMI) to identify labour and skill gaps as well as the National Agricultural Occupational Framework (NAOF), an in-depth study of the exact jobs and skills involved in today’s agricultural workforce. These projects will help to better inform and connect industry, governments and academic institutions with agriculture’s workforce requirements which are integral to the success of the Labour Action Plan’s future activities.

“The Canadian Agricultural HR Council is pleased to lead the implementation of the Labour Task Force’s Agriculture and Agri-Food Labour Action Plan,” explains Portia MacDonald-Dewhirst, Executive Director, CAHRC. “The Labour Task Force is a critically important mechanism that brings industry together to discuss labour related issues, recognize their inter-connectedness and collaborate to develop meaningful solutions.”

For more information on the Agriculture and Agri-Food Labour Action Plan or agricultural human resource management contact CAHRC at www.cahrc-ccrha.ca.