Mushroom growers applaud province for tightening rules for temporary help agencies

HARRISTON – The Canadian Mushroom Growers’ Association (CMGA) has expressed its support of the Ontario government tightening rules for temporary help agenices.

“We applaud the Doug Ford government and Labour Minister McNaughton for moving forward to tighten the rules for these Ontario agencies,” said Ryan Koeslag, executive vice-president, CMGA.

On Monday, McNaughton introduced the Working for Workers Act, 2021 in the Ontario Legislature. The proposed bill would require employers with 25 or more employees to develop disconnecting from work policies, prohibit employers from using non-compete agreements, and includes measures introduced earlier this month, such as establishing a licensing framework for recruiters and temporary help agencies.

“We see this as a much-needed step to curb the underground economy and exploitation of workers,” said Koeslag.

Canada has a strong, adaptable, and a high-tech mushroom sector that contributes close to $1 billion to the Canadian economy, generating approximately $500 million for Ontario, where over 50 per cent of the mushroom production resides. Mushrooms grow four per cent every hour, doubling in size every day. Mushroom farms create approximately 2,500 jobs in Ontario and over 5,000 jobs across Canada.

“Mushroom farmers care about their workers,” said Janet Krayden, workforce specialist for CMGA. “Our mushroom growers have been advocating that the Ontario government consider reforms to temporary help agencies for several years, so we are very pleased to see the Ministry of Labour moving forward with this initiative.”

The CMGA voluntarily developed its own policy to protect temporary help agency workers. Through its Mushroom Fair Labour and Ethical Recruitment Program, the group developed and adopted a standard operating procedure protecting temporary help agency workers. The group also supports the standard with regular training for employers and HR managers.

“We strongly support a provincial system that would audit and remove the agency bad actors and produce a credible, vetted list of agencies and recruiters for our farmers,” said Krayden. “A list of companies that treat the workers fairly, which are following the province’s labour laws along with human resource best practices, this is what farmers are looking for and really need to fill the critical labour gap on our farms.”

Mushroom farms provide permanent full-time good paying jobs, yet the sector has up to 20 percent job vacancy rate. Currently, there are over 2,000 international workers employed on mushroom farms across Canada. Hundreds of these hard-working agricultural workers are seeking the opportunity to remain and immigrate. Mushroom farms are supportive of a strong pathway to permanent residency, but current immigration programs, at both the provincial and federal levels, are blocking access to farm workers.

“Better immigration access with criteria that makes sense for our farm workers is another important area we would like the province to help our workers with,” said Krayden.

Added Koeslag, “Mushroom farms are eager to collaborate with the Ministry of Labour through a working group on these important temporary help agency changes and we stand ready to support the legislation development and implementation.

“The need for strong Ontario food production and food security has been highlighted repeatedly during COVID-19. The time to make real change is now to better support our Ontario farmers and farm workers who produce our world class agricultural products”