A 'temporary' solution for productivity amid NAFTA talks
As tension mounts during Canada-U.S. trade talks, industry leaders on both sides of the border need a strong foundation to support an interconnected supply chain.
Flexible labour markets, supported by temporary employment, are imperative to this foundation.
As president and CEO of Fiera Foods, a Canadian company with products found in most U.S. grocery store chains, I employ temporary workers. They are key to our success as an innovative food maker.
Intensive and often variable demand from U.S. restaurants and grocery store customers means we must hire staff efficiently, having precisely the right amount of labour supply to meet client targets. We employ 500 people — and depending on orders, our number of workers can double or even triple.
It has been fashionable recently for ideologically-driven media coverage to attack temporary employment as an excuse for employers to cut corners on health and safety standards. Nothing could be further from the truth. As employers, we take seriously our mandate to deliver the healthiest, safest workplace for employees, whether they are temporary, part-time or full-time. At Fiera Foods, we learned many of those lessons the hard way after our team endured a tragic loss in a 2016 workplace fatality.
Rather than scapegoating temporary labour, we should consider its advantages for Made-in-Canada manufacturers seeking to win competitive international contracts. Temporary labour gives companies like Fiera Foods the flexibility to meet uneven demand efficiently. In a world where margins are low and minimum wage is comparatively high, it can be a critical difference maker. When our trade future is uncertain and competition is fierce, temporary labour helps small manufacturers get an edge.
Last holiday season offers a perfect example. Fiera Foods got a call from a major retailer wanting to create an all-new pastry as a special promotion. Designing an entirely new bakery product is very difficult and producing it on a massive scale is even harder. It was “all hands on deck,” including leading food scientists, chemists and engineers.
A surge of temporary labour came in to help us experiment with recipes. It was a money losing proposition at first. But once we developed a working recipe, we scaled quickly with the help of extra labour and advanced machinery. This Christmas pastry made its way to store shelves nationwide and became a customer favourite.
Understanding these cycles creates valuable lessons for businesses looking to respond to NAFTA uncertainty. Temporary workers are essential to our ability to respond to these cycles and to work immediately when we have big orders to fill.
Innovation, flexibility and diversity have helped Fiera Foods be first to market with new products and to satisfy periods of high demand. Labour measures that restrict companies’ ability to make these types of investments will ultimately handcuff this sort of innovation.
As was the case with developing that innovative Christmas pastry, food manufacturers require an innovative mix of full-time labour, temporary labour and modern technology to stay competitive as exporters.
Boris Serebryany is CEO & President of Fiera Foods in Toronto.
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