A Vernon-based group is running a new program that will gather information about the needs of temporary foreign workers in the North Okanagan.
Working under the umbrella of the Migrant Worker Support Network — a B.C. pilot project led by Employment and Social Development Canada — the Vernon and District Immigrant and Community Services Society (VDICSS) is identifying gaps in support for temporary foreign workers and the employers who hire them, while creating a database of information on the economic impact of these workers in the region.
“We found that in the North Okanagan there hasn’t really been much attention given to temporary foreign workers (or) migrant workers,” VDICSS CEO Philipp Gruner said.
VDICSS received funding to hire an outreach worker for the program that runs until February 2021. Gruner says the outreach worker is currently knocking on doors in the community, speaking with foreign workers and employers, answering questions regarding workplace safety and keeping track of any other needs or challenges.
Gruner says the information gathered will help the federal government identify the program’s strengths and weaknesses. Locally, it will provide a clearer picture of how many temporary foreign workers come to the region, where they go for work, as well as which industries and employers rely on them most heavily.
Among the many insights that can be drawn from the COVID-19 pandemic is the North Okanagan agricultural sector’s reliance on temporary foreign workers.
“Through conversations and reading in the media, you hear stories about farmers unable to get their apples off the trees because they just don’t have the labour force to do it and they can’t find people locally to do it,” Gruner said. “It just demonstrates that there is such a high need for temporary foreign workers here in the North Okanagan.”
The program will also educate employers via mini-workshops and online sessions, and help migrant workers with English lessons and other supports.
Earlier this year the VDICSS started a working group with local organizations and government representatives from all levels to help raise awareness around the needs of migrant workers.
The working group will hold four meeting each year, following the cycle of migrant workers from recruitment, arrival in the North Okanagan and employment over the summer months.