Canadian business groups tout refugee job opportunities


Canadian business groups tout refugee job opportunities

Canadian Meat Council in talks with Citizenship and Immigration Canada and provincial governments.

Peter Mazereeuw
Published: Thursday, 11/19/2015 12:00 am EST
Last Updated: Thursday, 11/19/2015 2:02 am EST

Businesses that have a hard time recruiting Canadians say they are reaching out to the federal government and the provinces to see if they can match up with the incoming wave of refugees.

Lobby groups for Canadian employers are intrigued by the 25,000 refugees Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expects to bring in by the end of the year. “This has been ramping up since a year ago,” said Ron Davidson, director of government relations for the Canadian Meat Council, which lobbies on behalf of meat packing plants.

The CMC and its member companies have been in talks with Citizenship and Immigration Canada and provincial governments to try to find a way to make the refugees aware of job opportunities in meat packing plants once they arrive in Canada, he said.

Meat packers are trying to fill hundreds of jobs in plants across the country, he said. Canadians don’t see themselves working in the plants, and meat packers have been trying to find ways to get more workers.

Maple Leaf Foods is one of them. The company, which owns a huge pork processing plant in Brandon, Manitoba has been working with the provincial and municipal governments to « determine the best opportunities for placement at Maple Leaf for approved Syrian refugees, » according to an emailed statement from company spokesperson Dave Bauer.

The Canadian Meat Council is trying to “make it known” to the incoming refugees that there are good, unionized jobs available in those plants, said Mr. Davidson.

There are other business groups on the lookout for ways to advertise jobs to the Syrian refugees as well, said Dan Kelly, who heads the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

“Having a large group of people that are coming to Canada, that may be anxious to find a job and begin to get settled, provides a terrific opportunity for many,” he said.

Many businesses are struggling to find workers in lower-paid, lower-skilled “junior occupational categories,” particularly those in the retail, construction and hospitality sectors, said Mr. Kelly.

Those jobs can be “a terrific place to start” for a new arrival to Canada, he said.

It’s not clear the Syrian refugees will want those kinds of jobs either. Many Syrian immigrants already in Canada arrive highly educated, said Mr. Kelly. Refugees come from all walks of life, and those with advanced skills or education are unlikely to take low-skill jobs, he said.

The Canadian Nursery Landscape Association is interested in recruiting refugees from rural areas of Syria, who are more likely than urban Canadians to have experience in agricultural work, said Harold Deenen, the human resources chair of the Canadian Nursery Landscape Association.

“That’s what we’re hearing, that they’re not necessarily city folk. That’s a real plus,” he said.

Aslam Daud has already helped about 45 Syrian refugees find work in Canada. Mr. Daud is the chairman of Humanity First Canada, a non-profit that helps people around the world displaced by natural or man-made disasters.

Humanity First Canada has sponsored and resettled 45 Syrian refugees in Canada since the beginning of August, he said. Many came with university degrees, trade skills or experience running a business, and all have now found jobs, he said.

An inability to speak English or French is often the biggest barrier to refugees finding work, he said. Humanity First tries to help its sponsored refugees to learn one of the official languages, and the federal government does the same for government-assisted refugees, such as the 25,000 it has pledged to bring to Canada.

Humanity First is holding a fundraising dinner in Toronto Nov. 20 to raise money to bolster its efforts to resettle Syrians. Mr. Daud said he expected government officials, MPs and others connected to government and refugee policy to attend.

TFWP changes turned industry to refugees

Many Canadian businesses have been looking for new ways to recruit workers since the government made changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program last year that made it more difficult and expensive to bring in temporary workers, said Mr. Kelly.

Some members of the CMC and CNLA have sought, and hired, newly arrived refugees to fill that need, said Mr. Davidson and Mr. Deenen.

The CNLA has had ongoing discussions with the government about its refugee and immigration policies, which have made it difficult to recruit new arrivals in the past, said Mr. Deenen.

“One of our frustrations with [Citizenship and Immigration Canada] is that they don’t seem to focus on bringing in tradespeople, which is what we need,” he said.

Urban resettlement a problem for rural employers

The meat packers and landscaping companies may not get what they need from the incoming Syrians either. The federal government typically resettles government-assisted refugees in urban areas, and a recent report by the radio program Everything Is Political suggested Toronto, Montreal and CFB Trenton are the planned destination for the Syrians.

Government-assisted refugees are provided with 12 months of financial support from the government once they arrive, as well as medical services, temporary housing, food and clothing.

They are free to move away from those areas, but “encouraged” to stay put so they can benefit from the services planned for them, says an online information pamphlet for refugees published by Citizenship and Immigration Canada.

That means the big meat packing plants in small towns like Brooks, Alberta could have a hard time recruiting refugees who are tethered to urban centres, said Mr. Davidson.

“Location is a huge consideration,” he said.

Rural employers are already at a disadvantage, as many new arrivals to Canada are drawn to urban centres, said Mr. Kelly.

However, there is no reason government-assisted refugees who are ready to work couldn’t move to take a job, said Amy Casipullai, the policy and communications coordinator for the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants.

Those refugees are provided housing and income support until they have a steady income, she said. Immigration agencies work with refugees to get them settled, and once they are ready, working and living independently.

“The sooner they become self-supporting, the better it is,” she said.

The federal government did not answer questions about where refugees would be resettled, and whether there would be any barriers to refugees receiving government assistance if they moved to a small or remote town to take a job.

Citizenship and Immigration spokesperson Jessica Seguin wrote that “more details will be released in the coming days” in an emailed statement.