EDMONTON — Maple Leaf Foods Inc. is offering to hire Syrian refugees to fill vacant jobs at two of its meat plants.
The company, like others in Canada's meat sector, is dealing with a chronic shortage of employees that has been exacerbated by restrictions placed on the temporary foreign worker program.
"We would be very pleased and honoured to be part of the solution in terms of helping find employment for the Syrian refugees," said Rory McAlpine, a senior vice-president at Maple Leaf.
"We have jobs available."
McAlpine said initially Maple Leaf could hire 25 refugees at its pork plant in Brandon, Man., and about 10 at its smaller operation in Lethbridge, Alta.
The company is looking for physically fit people with manufacturing experience who could be trained as general production workers and meat cutters.
The Canadian Meat Council has been urging the federal government and the provinces to do all they can to settle some of the refugees in smaller rural communities in Western Canada, Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada where their labour is needed.
McAlpine said the challenge for the industry is that most of the government-sponsored refugees are to be settled in major cities.
He said Maple Leaf is waiting to hear how the settlement of refugees will unfold to see how many candidates it can interview.
Federal Employment Minister MaryAnn Mihychuk said Ottawa will work to help match refugees with employers such as Maple Leaf.
"We want to help refugees engage in the local workplace," she said. "So under the refugee program we are working with immigration to ensure that some of those people are going to be placed in a community like Brandon."
McAlpine said Maple Leaf has experience dealing with foreign workers and helping them integrate into rural communities.
The company already translates its workplace and safety information into different languages and would be willing help employees learn to speak English, he added.
Syrian Muslims have dietary restrictions that do not allow them to eat pork, but there are no rules against them handling the meat.
"We already have some Muslims working in our pork plants, even though they do not consume pork. Similarly, Muslims may work in a chicken plant even if it is not producing halal chicken," he said.
McAlpine said if Maple Leaf (TSX:MFI) succeeds in hiring these first groups of refugees, more could follow.
"We are open to whatever might be available."