Forty new workers from El Salvador have arrived in Brandon to work at Maple Leaf Foods.
The group came to the Wheat City on Aug. 14, as part of the company’s latest recruitment effort to bring 200 new workers in from El Salvador and Honduras.
"They are (feeling) very positive to be here because they can change their lifestyle and they can change their family’s lifestyle," said Elsy Barahona, production supervisor at Maple Leaf Brandon. "They come for the better future and they have a better opportunity."
Barahona is also from El Salvador. She arrived in Brandon to work at Maple Leaf Foods in 2005.
She has been helping the new recruits, as she knows first-hand the challenges that come with moving to a new country. Dealing with the language barrier plus getting accustomed to the new culture are a few of the main hurdles.
"Most people are leaving family members," Barahona said. "It’s a challenge for the people that came first, but it’s something they can deal with."
When the workers first arrive in Brandon, they go through orientations to get familiar with the community as well as the plant.
"We have … basic living training, so living in Canada, this is what you can expect. We help them set up bank accounts here in town, we give them sort of a welcome package, the necessities that you would need to start out in Canada," said Brandon plant manager Morgan Curran-Blaney.
Maple Leaf assists the workers in an effort to make the transition to live in Canada as seamless as possible. The company secures housing for the new recruits before they arrive, which works out to roughly 37 houses and apartments.
"We make sure that if we bring over 200 employees, we can actually house 200 employees," Curran-Blaney said. "So we go in advance and make sure that we secure the housing, we furnish it, and our goal is to be able to integrate these employees into the community as fast as possible."
Curran-Blaney said the company tries to disperse the new employees throughout the community, rather than create pockets in the city.
"We also link in with our current El Salvador and Honduran base, to make sure that … when these new workers come over, they’re able to make links and ties with people that have been here three, four or five years," he said.
Barahona said connecting with people from their home country is a big help to the newcomers.
"People from El Salvador received those people, try to help them … try to give to them and support them," she said.
This is the first group of foreign workers recruited since a federal policy change to the provincial nominee program came into effect. As of July 1, immigrants will have to pass a language proficiency test to apply for permanent residency. Previously, there was no language test.
Workers will now have to pass an English test at a benchmark level of four to qualify for the PNP, which is 18 months after they arrive as a foreign temporary worker.
"They can’t bring their families over unless they do get permanent residency, so if they can’t achieve it, then basically what’s going to have to happen is that they’ll have to go back to their home countries," said Leslie Allen, executive director of Westman Immigrant Services.
"If they do achieve it, then yes they can bring their families over and it will be sort of the same type of process as we’ve become accustomed to here in the Westman area."
Allen said WIS is working with community groups in hopes of increasing the resources for temporary foreign workers.
"Everyone wants them to stay and … we really don’t want to see a revolving door happening here in our community with temporary foreign workers," she said. "We need to increase the resources here and have the tools available so the temporary foreign workers can be successful in acquiring language to that level."
The Brandon plant manager said during this recruitment, the company looked for workers who have a higher grasp of the English language.
"So it isn’t the struggle that was once in the past," Curran-Blaney said. "In having met the first 40 recruits, they were able to hold conversations, they’re asking me about what opportunities are like here, they’re already primed for the winter."
The next group of about 40 to 50 workers is expected to arrive mid-September.
"Our goal is two to three weeks to bring in another set of 50 and then the final 50," Curran-Blaney said. "But those timelines are very loose, just because we’re dealing with foreign governments and if you get a delay… there’s nothing you can really do about it."
Curran-Blaney is also new to the community, taking on the plant manager role in November. He is looking forward to working with the new group of workers.
"To me, what really hit home was this is a life-changing event for some of these people coming over here," he said. "They had an opportunity that would not be afforded for them in their own country, and they are making sacrifices to come over here to have a better life for themselves ... and it’s a better life for their families, too. And ... that really makes me proud to be a part of that."