Solving farm labour crisis by hiring foreign workers

Dairy farmer hires Mexican, prepared to help other farmers find help

OSGOODE ó Dairy farmer Jeff Robinson has hired a Mexican farm worker on a two-year work permit and has plans now to help other farmers hire foreign workers.

Robinson, who operates a job posting website, said if he was going to offer the service he had better make all the screw ups on his own application first.

He found that it can take three to six months to get all the paper work done. "This is not a quick fix for a farm," he said. But heís delighted with the results, having acquired a hard working employee he has increased from two to three milkings a day.

While there is always a concern that a foreign worker might disappear into the country once he arrives, Robinson said you have to make the job attractive enough for a worker to want to be here. Robinson pays for the flight and offered his 44-year-old worker, Arturo Cabrera, a salary of $30,000 a year and the use of a beater car. Cabrera works 10 hours a day in shifts, five days a week and lives in a nearby apartment. He also works four hours on Saturday in exchange for Robinson paying for English language lessons two evenings a week.

But long before a work permit is given, the applicant undergoes a health and criminal check. With all the paper work in place, Cabrera was held up for a mere 15 minutes by customs officers when he arrived by plane.

After three months in Canada, the foreign worker is eligible for OHIP (Ontario Health Insurance Program) and gets a social insurance number. For many foreigners receiving the health card "is like gold," Robinson said.

Cabrera, who has a wife and two children back in Mexico, had a sheep farm and was out of work for one year when he signed on with Robinson at Tilecroft Farms. Cabrera had put himself through veterinarian college for two years in Mexico but ran out of funds to continue. He sends most of his money home to his family and says his children are hoping to visit him in the winter, looking forward to seeing snow. In Mexico he would earn about $300 Cdn a month on a farm.

Robinsonís advice for farmers considering hiring foreign workes: "If you donít like training people you wonít like doing this." Because of a possible language barrier, "people skills are needed much more with foreign workers."

Few farmers hire long-term foreign workers but Robinson is helping another eastern Ontario farmer hire an American worker. Louis Patenaude, of Gillette Farm, near Embrun, has hired Philippine workers at his dairy operation. "This is something I would recommend," Robinson said. "I would do it again."

As for Cabrera, he was so happy with his new job he stood up at the Robinson dinner table to make a speech he had written in English. In part he said: "I certainly got to the best place with the best family in Canada. Iím sure of that and again thank-you for everything."

While Cabreraís language skills are improving quickly, he has two worries: his family back in Mexico and driving in the snow. For more about hiring foreign workers call Robinson at 613-774-6303.