The research is clear: The industry cannot continue to produce healthy, safe and affordable food for Canadians and for global consumers without ensuring that workers are secured and in place to do their jobs.
The COVID pandemic has put a greater spotlight on this, and it has confirmed that there's no more time to waste. We must work toward longer-term and systemic solutions to the persistent labour shortages that the agricultural industry is facing. CAHRC's labour market research has clarified that job vacancy rates in the industry are as high as 10%, which is exceptionally high compared to other industries, and those vacancies are impactful and result in close to $3 billion in lost sales revenue annually for food businesses alone.
Beyond financial losses, farmers' inability to fill all of their vacant positions with either Canadian or foreign workers makes the business of food production in Canada very stressful and difficult.
International workers, as you know, come to Canada to work on farms and fill positions when Canadians can't be found. Although approximately 60,000 foreign workers are brought in each year, tens of thousands of positions still remain vacant. The latest assessments indicate an expectation that the labour gap will grow to 123,000 positions by 2029.
Businesses that aren't able to fill vacancies face production losses and excessive stress. Owners cancel expansion plans, and many report leaving the food business altogether. Securing a full team of workers is challenging for farm businesses at any time. It's especially challenging during a pandemic. However, the pandemic has highlighted that food production is part of Canada's critical infrastructure, and maintaining the ability of food producers to operate effectively, even during a global health crisis, is critically important to every one of us.
Food businesses are expected to continue to operate through the pandemic and, thankfully, have been designated as essential workplaces so that Canadians can enjoy homegrown fruit, vegetables, meat, dairy and grains. However, keeping agricultural businesses operational has not been easy for either industry or government due to the already extensive labour shortages the industry faces and the unique workforce management challenges that exist.
COVID has highlighted not only how complex it is to maintain public health during a pandemic, but also just how important and complex it is to manage workforce issues in this industry. COVID has certainly put a spotlight on the need for focused attention to address the persistent and pervasive issues of workforce shortages that continue to undermine this industry's ability to operate at full capacity. There's a clear need for a national labour strategy to stabilize worker availability and food production through the pandemic and beyond.
Now I'll pass the floor to Cyr.