Experts are warning that Canadian employers must change their approach to temporary workers in order to stay competitive in a shrinking labor market. The temporary labor force in Canada plays a vital role in filling seasonal jobs in sectors such as retail and food service, which typically see an increase during the holiday season. However, it also helps to fulfill the needs of a wide array of industries, such as agriculture, meat-packaging, and fisheries, throughout the year.
One solution is for employers to treat seasonal jobs as part of their long-term plan to grow their workforce with well-trained and skilled staff. This can be achieved by being creative with wage and compensation benefits, having a comprehensive onboarding process, providing feedback, and rewarding good work. Additionally, detailed work contracts should be offered to assure employees that their rights will be protected and that there is a process in place to resolve disputes if they arise.
The shortage of workers is expected to continue, but critics argue that a more nuanced approach is needed to address the problem. In particular, experts point to employment insurance (EI) programs in Atlantic Canada, which are exacerbating the problem by encouraging people to stay in seasonal positions even though there are full-time jobs available.
In the seafood processing industry, which typically hires low-wage seasonal workers who depend on EI during the off-season, the number of job vacancies in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick averaged more than 1,700 in the first half of 2022, almost double the level in the same period in 2017. Experts estimate that by 2030, there will be about 7,500 available positions.
The report calls for major changes to the EI program, including a careful examination and review of the role of temporary foreign workers to ensure the program actually meets the needs of seasonal labor. Other suggestions include incentivizing automation in the seafood manufacturing sector, and introducing research partnerships between companies, post-secondary institutions, and federal government research labs.