'They'd rather stay home': Farmer struggling to hire workers who are collecting CERB
VANCOUVER -- Berries are ripening and the prime time to pick them is just around the corner, but Khushvinder Singh Maan is struggling to hire enough help to ensure his crop is picked in time.
“It started back in early March,” Maan told CTV News Vancouver. “There were two workers who were supposed to come ... six to 20 workers were supposed to come basically for picking, which happens in June.”
When the pandemic hit, he lost that international labour, and now looking for local help has become challenging.
“We have lots of jobs at the farm,” he said, but what he's been finding lately is those collecting the Canada Emergency Response Benefit would “rather stay at home than to brave the weather and hardship of coming and working in the field.”
That came as a surprise.
“We were kind of taken aback," Maan said.
Maan is one of the owners of Maan Farms in Abbotsford. As a food producer, the farm is an essential service, but without seasonal labourers, he’s worried about the farm's berry crop.
“We have a lot of stuff to get ready," he said.
The CERB came into effect two months ago for those who lost their jobs due to COVID-19. It’s a $2,000 monthly cheque that Canadians must apply for each month.
Maan told CTV News jobs on his farm pay amounts ranging from minimum wage to $17 per hour, which he admits isn’t much more than the government’s offer. However, he thinks the CERB should be changed.
“If there’s work, they shouldn’t be collecting it,” he said. “There should be some sort of qualifying and, 'Have you gone and talked to an employer?' Something in writing.”
He’s not alone in this position. Federal official opposition leader Andrew Scheer expressed a similar point earlier this week, saying the program could deter Canadians from returning to work.
“At a time when our economy needs stimulus, Trudeau has given it a tranquilizer and risks creating labour shortages across the country,” Scheer said during a news conference Monday.
He said the benefit should be expanded to allow those returning to work to continue to qualify for a portion of the government benefit, even once they earn more than $1,000 per month.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, meanwhile, announced during his daily briefing outside Rideau Cottage Friday that as businesses begin to reopen, Canadians won’t need to depend on the CERB. He said the government was extending the wage subsidy program for businesses.
“To businesses hit by COVID-19 know this, the wage subsidy will continue to be there for you to help you keep your employees on the payroll,” he said.
That is welcome news to Maan, who said because of that program he’s been able to hire five to seven new employees.
But in order to get enough staff to work his farm, he hopes the government makes some changes the CERB, so he and others can depend on local workers.