Hard to compete with the foreign workforce

Difficile de rivaliser avec la main-d’œuvre étrangère

A good part of the precious foreign labour is expected in the fields of Quebec was not able to come this year because of the pandemic, which has forced the government to call the Québécois in reinforcement. After three days of hard work on a farm in Lanaudière, it is clear that these temporary workers to local unskilled may not always compete with the South Americans experienced.

It is 7 h. A day of exceptional warmth of late may. This is my first work shift at the farm asparagus, and ground cherries Primera located in Saint-Thomas, near Joliette. The day before on the phone, the owner Mario Rondeau had told me that I would start to ” the time of the Québécois “, or two hours after the Mexicans who work on the farm.

Maude Ouellet has crept into the skin of a worker farm for three days.

“If I want Quebecers to remain, I need to be accommodating in terms of schedule, otherwise after three or four days, I’m going to lose them “, he explains.

This is what has happened in the last few weeks.

The mercury is expected to rise to over 30 degrees Celsius : “a baptism of fire,” said Mr. Rondeau, that everyone on the farm calls her by her first name.

Mario Rondeau was launched in the cultivation of asparagus in 2006. He grows three varieties : green, white and purple.

$ 200,000 in losses

Lack of arms, the firm Primera harvest in half as much asparagus as usual, in addition to having had to give up the picking in some fields.

“According to my estimates, this represents a financial loss of $ 200,000,” says the owner.

Mario Rondeau explains to our reporter Maude Ouellet that unlike green asparagus which grow outside of the earth, the white do not see the light, being buried.

This shortage of workforce is explained by the many temporary foreign workers who have chosen to stay home this year, while some countries have not been able to process as many applications as usual because of the health crisis. In Primera, they are 11 this year instead of 23 as usual.

To motivate Quebecers to replace them, the prime minister François Legault announced a financial incentive of $ 100 per week. The president of the Union des producteurs agricoles, Marcel Groleau, said he is still missing 3000 employees trained to crops, and this, even if 8000 Quebecers volunteered.

“The mexican workers are not better than Quebec, it is just that they have more experience in the agricultural sector,” observes Mr. Rondeau.

Most come back year after year and they require less supervision.

“If they need a tool, they know it is where, they did not need to come and ask me,” he adds. I really need them to be able to do other tasks. “


The dozen of Quebec committed to save the crops, and me sharpen our knives and pick up our boilers before you go to the fields.

Quebecers sharpen their knives before beginning the harvest.

It does not collect the asparagus with large machines, not. They have to be picked one at a time, by hand.

The Mexicans, meanwhile, have been assigned to other fields. Since they are more experienced, they use harvesters, machinery, motorized scrolling over the rows of asparagus, which lets drivers pick the.

The experienced workers is used by pickers to gather the asparagus, like Jorge.

To be able to make use of it, you have to be fast. That is why new, in fact most Quebecers, don’t use them, which slows production for the farmers.

After only five minutes of picking, I try to determine the most comfortable position for not to ruin my back. It folded in two ? On my knees ? Four-legged ? One of my friends in quebec told me that I should capitalize on the variety. It is noted.

“A daycare centre in the field “

Around me, the group of Quebecers is disparate, but I note that there are a lot of teenagers. Some will have to leave in the afternoon since they are in high school, and that, after all, it is academic success that premium. Still a brake in the production for Mr. Rondeau.

The firm Primera growing asparagus on 50 acres of fields.

A few rows to the side of me, a young man from the region is progressing less quickly than the other. It is the flowing fresh, lying in the earth side of asparagus, even if the day has only yet just begun.

Eric Rondeau, the owner’s brother, warned him. The ado response : “You come to take my place if you’re not happy. “

The young person is fired. His experience would not even have lasted a week.

Karine Brouillette, also a supervisor, said that he had a bad attitude and that he undermined the morale of the troops.

“There are moments where it looked like a daycare centre in the field “, she says.

Take time off to help

For his part, Éric Rondeau does not lack work, as he must oversee all the operations. It took four weeks of vacation time to his other job of controller road to come and help her brother who was in trouble.

“It’s been 16 years that I have not worked on the farm, but when I saw that it was not going well for Mario, I decided to take my leave. ”

After two hours of what I consider a hard work, Mario Rondeau asks me to go do the tri, probably not for me spare a little.

We class the asparagus according to their diameter and their quality. On a conveyor belt, the asparagus parade. I have to make the packages from one book and place it on another machine that will. It is repetitive, I have to stay on-site, the tilted head, which gives me neck pain.

Manon Fiola sorts the vegetable, depending on its size and its quality.

All in all, I would prefer to be in the field on four legs in the heat.

At 17 h, I give up on this task, and I hurt all over.

“You get used to it after two or three days,” said Angelique Toupin, barely 19 years old. She knows what she is talking about, she is there since two weeks.

The next day, I wake up and I hurt all over, especially to the quadriceps and to the nape of the neck. I go back to sort, a bit reluctantly.

Novel Martin Jimenez comes to my side to show me the basics. For the past 14 years, he left Mexico to come and work at the farm Primera (see other text on page 23). On the conveyor belt, there is a lot of asparagus for second grade. To tease him, I tell him that these are the Mexicans who have picked those.

“No, no ! It is you who have picked “, throws me to the joke. I doubt that he is not wrong.

The third morning, the mercury announcement 6 °C and I tell myself that it will be more comfortable in the fields. Angelique Toupin does not agree.

“The asparagus are so cold, sometimes I can’t feel my hands. ”

Definitely, I will be passed through the range in all weather conditions.

A job paying

Replanting plan of ground cherry that has not survived the heat of the last few days, I took the opportunity to pull out my Spanish for the Sunday and discuss it with Ines Tehuintle Chipahua. He does not hide that the status of the foreign worker temporary is very lucrative to him.

“In Mexico, I would be paid the equivalent of $ 10 canadian per day if I was working on a farm,” he says.

Not need to be gifted in calculus to conclude that he earns at least 10 times this salary here and sometimes more during the week and busy.

The temporary employees aliens who Mario Rondeau has been dealing in the last 15 years, required him to pay a minimum of 55 hours per week. When the temperature is not at the rendezvous, he is not always able to provide them, which creates a certain dissatisfaction, ” he admits.

In the afternoon, it is necessary to cover a few rows of ground cherries from a huge canvas. I can see that it would have been difficult to give this task more complex for employees in quebec who have started there are just a couple of weeks.

My day ends. “Is this you’ll be back to help us ?” asks Laurie Rondeau, the youngest of the group. I answer him that I would not be against the idea of helping a day or two.

On highway 40 towards Montreal, I extrapolate. I would really be able to do that all season ? After all, the harvest only lasts for a little over a month and ends in the vicinity of the fête nationale du Québec. To be perfectly honest, I don’t think.

Finished an self-help

Until the early 2000s, the firm Primera could count on a network of farmers of the region during the harvest. This ecosystem of mutual assistance has been halted since the small farms have been bought out by very large. The workers no longer had the time to lend a hand to their neighbors. In 2005, due to lack of skilled labour, Mario Rondeau has not had the choice of betting on employees elsewhere.

Race against the clock

Users offended by the loss wrote to the firm Primera to deplore the fact that the asparagus had not been given to works of charity. This option was impossible, since, when they are not picked on time, the vegetables flower and become inedible. Farmers have a little time before that happens. When it is hot and humid, asparagus can grow up to 15 centimeters per day. The harvest becomes a race against the clock.

Agreement with Mexico

The government of Mexico will be new to some 16 000 temp workers to come to Canada to work in the fields to the result of an agreement with Ottawa, a-t-we learned yesterday evening. Due in particular to agricultural workers, mexicans infected by the COVID-19 here, Mexico had temporarily suspended the permissions to make this workforce, help on canadian farms this summer. A joint group will be responsible for responding to complaints of mexican nationals, identify areas of risk, initiate inspections, and to ensure the care of the Mexicans who became ill in Canada.

Behind your asparagus ?

Laurie and Eric Rondeau


  • Age : 12 years and 43 years of age
  • Strengths : persistent and positive

When Eric learned that his brother needed help on the farm, the controller road has decided to take three weeks of vacation to go give him a hand. His daughter Laurie has also volunteered. His father, however, has warned that the work would be arduous, but it was quickly fascinated. Despite his young age, Laurie never complained, it is the teaser of the group. When Laurie and her father return to Saint-Eustache after work, she has to make up the classes she has missed during the day, which is not a problem, since it is gifted to the school. “It impresses me,” says the father.

Ines Tehuintle Chipahua


  • Age : 38 years
  • Strength : conscientious

Ines Tehuintle Chapahua lives in the State of Veracruz, located near the gulf of Mexico. For the past eight years, he left his country six months per year to help the farmers here. The other half of the year, he is a worker in the field of construction. He is the father of three children, aged between 8 and 14 years old that he calls every time he has the opportunity. “Before I was working in the field of construction in the United States. I could be a year without seeing them. It’s better here “, he says. The tasks he performs here this is demanding, but they will allow him to take a month’s vacation with his family when he will return to the fold.

François Duval


  • Age : 68 years
  • Strength : gatherer

From the top of its 68 years, the dentist to the retirement of François Duval has chosen to make himself useful by going to lend a strong hand to the firm Primera. It is his first experience as an agricultural employee. “I passed in front of a bike and I decided to go and give my name,” says the athlete in the soul. The resident of The Assumption is always there to sharpen the knives used to harvest the asparagus, or to make service. It is perhaps the eldest of the group, but it is in better shape than many of the young people, a finding which he prides himself a little. For him, the days spent outdoors are synonyms of pleasure. “When I was a child, my mother would take me to pick wild strawberry to reward us,” recalls he.

Jean-René Moisan


  • Age : 39 years
  • Strength : interpersonal skills

It is through the media that he learned that the farmers were in need of arms. The commitments of the professional actor have been cancelled due to the COVID-19. To fill this free time, one that has played particularly in Leo and a Trip to three has wanted to do his part. After having launched a call to all on the social networks, has made contact with the firm Primera. Since three weeks already, it goes back and forth between Montreal and Saint-Thomas to harvest asparagus. Although the work in the field is very different from the actor, Jean-René Moisan is satisfied to be launched in this first experience. “It’s still rewarding,” he concludes.

Ivan Aguilar Rosales


  • Age : 32 years
  • Strength : dedicated

Ivan Aguilar Rosales leaves Toluca, on the outskirts of Mexico city to come and work in the fields, quebec to six months per year, starting in 2016. In Mexico, it is bathed also in the middle of agriculture, and works in a plantation lawyer. “He is really meticulous and proactive,” notes the owner of the farm Primera, Mario Rondeau.

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