Thank you for the invitation to participate.
During COVID, obviously, employers have been struggling with extensive uncertainty about meeting their staffing needs. They have been uncertain about operating realities during the pandemic and about getting their foreign workers into Canada on time. A lot of these decisions about planting and proceeding with production have been filled with an exhaustive list of unknowns. Farmers continue to lack clarity about what their staffing levels will be this year because they don't know if or when their international workers will arrive. They also don't know if workers' absenteeism will increase for Canadian and international workers due to wage benefits like the CERB, public health directives encouraging people to stay home, and limited PPE—you just heard about that. They don't know if new entrants, like students, can be enticed to join the industry during a global health pandemic and be convinced to stay for the whole season. They also don't know the extent to which disruptions across the value chain will impact their operations.
In addition, employers have also been struggling with keeping up to date on new and evolving workplace protocols. An extensive list of government agencies at the federal, provincial and local levels all set expectations for employers. While learning the rules and recommended practices, employers are also working to secure their staff, and they are responding directly to the health and safety concerns of their employees, clarifying rules around new work arrangements, physical distancing, PPE, housing, commuting, outings, etc.
There's a clear need to support the industry employers with their complex HR management activities. CAHRC has been doing this throughout the pandemic, providing access to all farm operations across the country. It's very complicated. Farmers in all of their businesses are still struggling for all of this.
The Government of Canada has demonstrated a commitment during COVID to meaningful consultation, coordination and action to address pressing workforce needs. Better mechanisms have been implemented to connect industry, government, and so on. What we need now is to expand upon this good work and develop a national labour strategy with longer-term activities to refine consultations and improve labour supply and skills.
Now is the time to ensure that the food production system stays operational through COVID and beyond, and is well positioned to overcome the persistent labour shortages that have been limiting growth. What is needed is the proper time, resources and attention put forward to develop and enact a national labour strategy. It's time to listen to the various recommendations of so many reports and committees that have reviewed this serious issue about labour.
The agri-food economic strategy table outlines key recommendations for addressing labour shortfalls in the long term that are aligned with those proposed by RBC, the Conference Board of Canada, CAHRC, HUMA, AAFC's national labour task force, and the Barton report. What all these reports stress is that there needs to be strategic, coordinated action to do three things: continue to monitor the numbers with quality labour market intelligence and research, increase the supply of labour by improving access to temporary foreign workers and generating Canadians' interest in agricultural jobs, and improve the knowledge and skills within the industry by upskilling workers and supporting the HR management skills of employers.
CAHRC has been supporting provincial efforts in these areas, but a national approach is still missing.