Several farmers across Canada, except Quebec, may not know their applications for seasonal workers are not being processed due to risk-based integrity audits. These delays are risking the ability to hire seasonal workers in time for spring operations.
Murray Porteous, CHC labour chair, is communicating daily with federal officials to unravel the bureaucratic impasse around Labour Market Impact Assessments (LMIA) submitted by some farmers. Farm employers who want to hire under the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program must submit an LMIA application to Employment and Skills Development Canada/Service Canada weeks ahead of the growing season.
In one case of an Ontario ginseng farmer, the LMIA was put on hold pending an integrity audit. There is no known timeline for the completion of the integrity audit. At risk? The farmer needs workers to erect shading for acres of ginseng, established for four years.
“I know in my farm’s case, Integrity Branch assured me that they were not holding my LMIA, but later I found out that Service Canada was refusing to process my application because I was under review in an integrity audit,” Porteous says.
The term of ‘integrity audit’ insinuates that the farmer has done something wrong. But in all these cases, the farmers have no information as to what triggered the process.
“My concern is that if these holds are not lifted right away, the consequences of not being able to access workers on time could devastate these businesses,” says Porteous. “They are at the end of the time frame to get workers in time and don’t have the time to request a judicial review, so they are asking me what to do. I would estimate in the case of a ginseng farm, that a lawsuit for damages could be substantial.”
Unless there is evidence that these workers are in physical danger, these LMIAs should not be held based on suspicion, Porteous has advised Andrea Knight, director of integrity operations, Service Canada.
“If you do so at this time of year, it is almost guaranteed that the farmer will not receive his workers in time. This can mean you bankrupt the business prior to any evidence of wrong doing. Until the policy mess is fixed, the safe approach for ESDC is to lift any hold on an LMIA that is currently in place, but continue its inspections.”
The latest update comes at end of business, January 25 from Murray Porteous.
“I have been informed that the government is digging into their lists and making sure that the unintended holds are being released,” he says. “ It appears that some Service Canada staff may have been holding applications back because they believed that the former protocol which indicated they should do so while an integrity audit was being conducted was still in effect and were not following the new guidelines.”