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Access to personal protective equipment for employees and transportation concerns due to border delays are the top issues facing businesses working in the produce sector, according to a recent member survey by The Canadian Produce Marketing Association (CPMA).

The survey is the second one CPMA has conducted to gauge how the produce industry is dealing with COVID-19 crisis. The survey was conducted in early May.

Survey participants included growers, wholesalers, retailers and some representing other parts of the supply chain.

More than half of the respondents, 51 per cent, said accessing PPE was their top concern with close to 90 per cent reporting they had purchased PPE and health screening tools, followed by 31 per cent that noted transportation as a big issue and 36 per cent indicating they are facing unexpected supply chain issues.

The need for PPE has also led to an increasing in operating costs, but participants acknowledged it as a necessary step to take in dealing with pandemic concerns.

Staffing shortages

CPMA asked participants about staffing shortages and as expected, many are experience shortages with a 38 per cent shortage in temporary foreign workers, 28 per cent shortage of domestic low skill workers, 11 per cent for admin staff and 35 per cent in warehouse staff.

“Many employees have chosen not to work because they are extremely uncomfortable working an environment where they think they possibly could be exposed to COVID-19…In some cases, there are significant staff shortages triggered by internal protocols to keep staff at home for 14 days if they show signs of symptoms,” notes the CPMA.

Wage premiums

Almost 40 per cent of participants reported paying hourly wage premiums to retain employees or attract new staff, while 61 per cent have not paid any wage premiums.

Survey participants also noted that they’ve incorporated new procedures to address the spread of COVID-19, such as doubling the amount of buses to move temporary foreign workers and expanding their housing, installing plexiglass at harvest stations, retail checkouts and warehouse checkouts and sales desks and expanding repack areas in warehouses to allow for social distancing.

The CPMA says it plans to periodically repeat the survey as the crisis unfolds.

 

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