A change to the hiring process for temporary foreign workers is creating concerns about the coming growing season for some Island farmers.
“We didn’t have the merriest of Christmases because we spent the whole time stressing about this,” said farm manager Simon Fowler, who is also manager of the Southern Vancouver Island Direct Farm Marketing Association.
Fowler says employers now need B.C. certification before they can apply to the federal government for foreign workers.
He was told his B.C. application would take four weeks but it’s now been 10 weeks and counting. He says each day that passes gets more difficult.
“You feel like you want to give up, and it’s been a really hard year I’ll be honest, so for me it just feels like we’re alone and we’re fighting our own government.”
Before the B.C. requirement, farmers would just apply directly to the federal government, a process they say that moved quickly.
“We would already be having our workers selected and they would be just going through the process in Mexico mostly,” said farm owner Dan Ponchet.
Instead Ponchet says it looks unlikely they’ll get their first workers by the end of February to help with planting and preparing greenhouses.
“We’re headed towards loss of crops, loss of variability in crops, loss of income for people and worst of all the reason they made this law is to protect the rights of these foreign workers who now can’t even come and work,” said Fowler.
Dan’s Farm isn’t alone. Fowler says at least six other farms have reached out to him with the same issue. Ponchet says trying to find local workers is next to impossible.
“You’re putting on higher and higher wages but it doesn’t seem to matter there’s always something better out there than actual farm work.”
For now, the pair say they’ll just have to work harder on their own to get the farm ready and hope that the application comes through soon.
In a statement late Thursday afternoon, the Ministry of Labour admitted there is a backlog due to an unprecedented increase in applications for the foreign worker certification.
It says it’s working with the federal government to better coordinate the application process and expects the wait time to be shortened in the coming weeks.