The dry economic conditions for the agriculture industry have resulted in Doepker Industries Ltd. going through another round of layoffs. As of July 24, another 69 workers will be laid off, many of whom are temporary workers in the province.
For those who haven’t yet received their permanent residency, there are very few options left to them if they want to stay in Canada.
“We just got a letter that told us we will get laid off,” said John Smith, who asked to use a pseudonym because of his current employment with the company. “I just brought my family, my wife and kids here. We’re worried what will happen to us. Our future is established here. We like Humboldt.”
Many of the workers like Smith have come here under the Saskatchewan Immigrant Nominee Program (SINP). Skilled workers are given a code according to their occupation and thus can only work for a company that has positions registered under that code. They can’t just go and pound the pavement for any job once they’re laid off; they have to find a job that matches their code.
To make things even more difficult, these workers are only given 45 days after they apply for Employment Insurance (EI) to find a job. If they don’t, they’ll be deported.
“The problem is with those people, they’re all under work permits,” said Jane Williams, who also asked to use a pseudonym because of her husband’s current employment with Doepker Industries. “We’ve applied for permanent residence, which is still under processing. For Canadians, it’s okay because they can do any work anywhere, but we’re still under work permits.”
According to Williams, nearly all of the workers laid off were foreign workers and many of them were from Mauritius. While there have been some concerns about this, the company’s chief customer officer, Lionel Doepker, has indicated that it’s just an unfortunate result of their policies.
“(Our layoff process) goes by seniority and most recent hires,” he said. “There’s a union contract here and it’s well defined how the list is chosen. We did a lot of immigration hiring over the last few years, so it could very well be that (foreign workers) were the latest ones to join the workforce. It certainly wasn’t by choice.”
In fact, Williams said they don’t blame Doepkers at all since they understand the economic strain it’s under. She even expressed gratitude that they were given a month’s notice.
Regardless, workers like her husband are still left with the short end of the stick. They have a limited amount of time to find a specific kind of work. If they don’t find anything locally, that means they’ll have to look farther away, which means either uprooting the family and moving again or paying two rents in order for the worker to maintain a job.
If they already had their permanent residency, none of that would be a problem. Unfortunately, those applications take approximately 16 months. The Saskatchewan government has recently opened up an express entry option for new workers coming in through the SINP, but that option doesn’t apply to foreign workers already in the province that have submitted their applications.
“They’re not processing the ones they already have, but they’re taking new applicants to come into the country with the same program, but through the express entry,” said Williams.
Then of course there are all the expenses that go with applying for permanent residence, renewing work permits, etc. Each of those applications can cost anywhere from $400-$900. In Williams’ case, they’ve already spent about $2,000 doing applications and paperwork since moving to Canada last year. All of that money came from their savings. If they didn’t have that money, they would have been out of luck. After her husband gets laid off, EI will only cover about 60 per cent of the salary and only Williams is allowed to work since she has an open work permit.
According to Smith, if they apply for EI, their permanent residence application will be suspended until he can find another job. If the government could provide a list of employers that have registered occupation codes, Williams says finding a job would be much easier.
“We’re not blaming anybody … (but) it’s frustrating when we only have 45 days and we don’t have a list of employers where we can look for that specific (job code),” said Williams. “I’m working, but for some people it’s worse because they have young babies. They can’t work, so it’s harder for them too.”