October 18, 2021 - No. 96

Meat Packing Monopolies Demand Increase in
Temporary Foreign Workers

Status for All! Immediate Regularization
for All Migrant Workers!

For Your Information
Temporary Foreign Workers in Meat Processing Plants
Agri-Food Immigration Program

Meat Packing Monopolies Demand Increase in Temporary Foreign Workers

Status for All! Immediate Regularization
for All Migrant Workers!

The Canadian Meat Council, which represents federally registered meat packers and processing plants, is calling on the federal government to increase the number of temporary foreign workers employers can hire. At present, the number of temporary foreign workers is capped at 10 to 20 per cent of the workforce in each facility. Any plant which hired temporary foreign workers prior to 2014 is capped at 20 per cent. The companies are demanding an increase to 30 per cent of all workers in the plants, or around 10,000 temporary foreign workers. They also want a "Trusted Employer Program" allowing these employers to hire an additional 10 per cent of the workforce as temporary foreign workers -- that is up to 40 per cent.

The Canadian Meat Council website states that there are 4,166 empty stations at meat processing plants across the country, of a total workforce of about 34,000. In Quebec, they report a vacancy rate approaching 40 per cent, with vacancy rates of around 20 per cent in Alberta plants, the council reports.

"Canadians do not want to become butchers," Canadian Meat Council spokesperson Marie-France Mackinnon arrogantly declared. As a result, the meat packing giants are losing money because they are forced to reduce production, she complained. This outrageous response only goes to underline the utter disregard of these global oligopolies for the workers. The global oligarchs who made record profits while the workers became sick and many died now want to be given the title of "trusted employer."

Workers in meat processing were particularly hard hit by COVID-19, with many deaths. They were subject to threats, intimidation and bullying, including the pressure to work sick during the pandemic. It was only the united actions of the workers and their unions which forced the closure of plants where COVID-19 was running rampant, and forced the companies to enact safety measures.

The meat and poultry processing industry was already notorious for the inhuman conditions and low wages imposed by neo-liberal globalization, despite the militant resistance of the workers. The dangerous conditions affecting workers' health and safety did not begin with COVID-19, but it did put a spotlight on them. Breakneck line speeds were, and remain, a big contributor to the high rate of workplace injuries and illnesses long before COVID-19.

The meat packing giants rely heavily on the most vulnerable workers including refugees and undocumented workers in the U.S. and refugees and workers recruited through the Temporary Foreign Worker Program in Canada. This is the deliberate and intentional neo-liberal model, which relies on the state to act as a human trafficker. An example is the JBS plant in Brooks, Alberta. When U.S. Tyson bought the plant in the early 1990's, which is now owned by Brazilian company JBS, it expanded from about 500 workers to its present 2,800 workers in a city which at the time had a population of 12,000. Brooks now has a population of about 16,000 people. There is no way that workers could be found for such an expansion in Brooks and surrounding communities. It is hardly a coincidence that one of the planned destinations for settlement of Afghan refugees is Brooks, along with other cities in Alberta with meat and poultry processing plants.

Low wages are an integral part of the neo-liberal model. In 1984, an entry level job at the Brooks plant, then known as Lakeside packers, paid $12.00 an hour, $26.25 in 2021 dollars. The starting wage in 2021 is $17.95 to $24.60 for production jobs, depending on the skill level and training and education required. Wages remain far below pre neo-liberal globalization levels, despite the long battle to unionize and the militant strike of 2005 in which the workers from Sudan played a leading role.

The ruling elite divides the people into categories such as Canadians, migrant workers with a path to permanent residency, migrant workers with no path to permanent residency, undocumented workers in a state of civil death, and so on, in order to super-exploit those accorded fewer rights.

Not only must this demand of the meat packing giants be rejected, but the Canadian state must be held accountable for its role in human trafficking and denial of the human rights of migrant workers. The Trudeau government claims that it is offering a "path to permanent residency" for workers in this sector through programs such as the Agri-Food Immigration Program. However, the programs serve the needs of the rich to attract workers despite their horrendous record of abuse and negligence, while only a few workers will be accepted as permanent residents. This shows the need to immediately regularize all migrants, refugees and undocumented people in the country and provide them with full immigration status now without exception. The solution lies in affirming the rights of all. Status for All! is the demand of migrant workers, migrant advocacy organizations and the Canadian working class.

Haut de page

For Your Information

Temporary Foreign Workers in
Meat Processing Plants

The study "Foreign workers in the Canadian food manufacturing industry" was published by Statistics Canada in April 2021. Workers' Forum is providing highlights of the study as concerns the meat processing industry. The full study can be found here

The study defines a "foreign worker" as "... a temporary resident who is working in Canada and receiving a T4 slip (Statement of Remuneration Paid) from an employer in the food manufacturing industry. This captures temporary residents who are authorized to work with a work permit under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) or International Mobility Program (IMP), as well as those who are authorized to work without a permit (e.g., refugee claimants), certain study permit holders and those who hold any other type of permit except visitor visas. Permanent residents are not considered foreign workers.

According to the study, there were 3,800 temporary foreign workers in the meat processing sector in 2017, or 3.9 per cent of all workers. "Foreign workers" in the meat processing industry are mainly men (76%) and 88 per cent are under the age of 45 with more than half under the age of 35. Close to 90 per cent work in plants with more than 100 workers. They are concentrated in the Prairie provinces (43%) and in Quebec (33%). The majority are not recruited through the TFWP, but through the International Mobility Program.[1]

The study showed a large wage gap between "foreign workers" and all workers in Canada. Across all industries, "foreign workers" make up 2.9 per cent of all workers but earn only 1.6 per cent of all wages. In meat processing they make up 3.9 per cent of all workers, but earn only 2.4 per cent of all wages paid.

Permanent Residency

Another significant finding of the study is the decline in the number of temporary foreign workers who get permanent resident status. The study covers the years 2005 to 2017.

The study looked at workers who obtained their first work permit between 2005 and 2013. It found that almost two-thirds (63.2%) of the 2005 entry cohort made a transition to permanent resident status at some point between their entry year and 2018 -- the end of the observation period. Of the 2005 cohort, 49.5 per cent got permanent resident status in their first five years in Canada, and 23 per cent got permanent residency in the first two years in Canada. In contrast, only 41.7 per cent of the 2013 cohort made a transition to permanent resident status in the first five years following entry (i.e., from 2014 to 2018), and only 5.4 per cent made this transition in the first two years.

This shows the impact of the "4 and 4" rule imposed by the Harper government in 2014. Under this rule, when a temporary foreign worker's work permit expired, if they had worked in Canada for four years, they would not be eligible for a new work permit for four years, and were expected to leave the country. While the Trudeau government removed the rule, it was completely indifferent to the situation of workers who had become undocumented because of the rule. It is not known how many undocumented workers remain in Canada whose employment is not reflected in the StatsCan study because they work in the "shadow economy."

Food Processing Skills Canada (FPSC) conducted a labour market information study of Canada's meat processing industry.[2] The survey states there were 60,000 workers in the meat processing industry, and 7,300 vacancies. According to this study, in 2017, 1,800 workers (or three per cent of the workforce) were hired through the TFWP. The study reports that temporary foreign workers, along with recent immigrants and refugees, make up 13 per cent of the industry's workforce.

The study concludes, "Notwithstanding the success employers have had with the TFWP, no one sees this as panacea (e.g., it's very expensive and out of reach for most companies). Rather it is viewed as a stop-gap measure to address an ongoing problem. Instead, employers are looking to migration, both domestic and international, to fill the labour gap, revitalize their communities and grow their businesses."

This statement indicates that despite recruitment of temporary foreign workers by the global meat processing giants on a significant scale for more than 15 years, they still have a large turnover of workers because of the unacceptable working conditions and low wages which have defined the industry under neo-liberal globalization. Despite their protestations about wanting immigration, not temporary foreign workers, the meat processing monopolies continue to demand increased numbers of migrant workers, and the trend is that fewer workers, not more, become permanent residents.


1. International Mobility Programs include spouses of "skilled workers" coming to Canada under the Express Entry streams, workers transitioning to permanent residency, spouses of international students, and international exchange programs such as International Experience Canada (IEC) which provides "working holiday visas" to youth from the following countries: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Korea (Republic of), Latvia, Lithuania, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, San Marino, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom.

2. For the full Food Processing Skills Canada (FPSC) labour market information study click here 

Haut de page

Agri-Food Immigration Program

The Trudeau government enacted the Agri-Food Immigration Pilot project in May 2020, which "provides a pathway to permanent residence for workers with full-time, non-seasonal in-Canada work experience in certain agricultural and agri-food industries." The program is capped at a maximum of 2,750 principal applicants plus their family members annually for three years, with applications accepted up to May 14, 2023. Quebec has a similar program for up to 550 applicants annually for a five year period.

The pilot project is open only to workers who have already worked for at least one year under the Temporary Foreign Workers' Program as non-seasonal farm workers, including greenhouse and mushroom production, butchers, retail, wholesale and industrial meat cutters, fishmongers, poultry preparers, or labourers in food and beverage processing.

Candidates must also meet a Canadian Language Benchmark level 4 in English or French and have a high-school diploma, post-secondary certificate or degree equal to a Canadian equivalent. Candidates currently living in Canada must maintain their temporary resident status during the processing of their application for permanent residence.

Employers who use the program will be issued a two-year Labour Market Impact Assessment (LMIA). Meat processors will be required to outline their plans to support the temporary foreign worker in obtaining permanent residency. Unionized meat processors will require a letter of support from their union, and non-unionized meat processors will have to meet additional requirements to ensure the labour market and migrant workers are protected, Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada states.

Haut de page

(To access articles individually click on the black headline.)



Website:  www.cpcml.ca   Email:  office@cpcml.ca