Christmas Tree Grower Turns To Mexico For Workers

Christmas tree grower turns to Mexico for workers

CBC News
Last Updated: Wednesday, November 25, 2009 | 8:39 AM AT
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Adrian Sanchez is one of five Mexicans working on Colin Hughes'

One of Nova Scotia's biggest Christmas tree exporters says he hired Mexican labourers this year because he can't find enough people locally to do the work.

Colin Hughes said he had no choice but to hire five workers from Mexico to help get his trees packed and ready for the peak export season.

He told CBC News there are not enough Nova Scotians ready and willing to do the job, which pays about $12 an hour.

“It's a lot harder to get dependable help,” Hughes said. “They work for five hours and then they want to go home. We work seven days a week, nine- or 10-hour days. You gotta work rain or shine.”

This is the first time that Hughes has used migrant workers, though others in the industry have turned to Mexico for help before.

The Christmas Tree Council of Nova Scotia says its members share the cost of bringing in foreign workers with apple growers and blueberry farmers, who also struggle to find local labourers.

Adrian Sanchez, from northern Mexico, said it's hard work, but it pays better than anything he can get back home.

“It's pretty good,” said Sanchez, one of Hughes's workers. “It's a bunch of good guys here.”

Wages are only part of the cost of bringing migrant workers to Nova Scotia, and Hughes said it actually costs more than local help by the time transportation and boarding costs are factored in.

Unemployed Nova Scotians apology

Hughes said his experiment with migrant labour has been so successful that he hopes to double the number of workers from Mexico next year.

This comes as Nova Scotia MP Gerald Keddy apologizes for comments he made about unemployed Haligonians and the need for migrant labour.

Earlier this week, Keddy suggested that “no-good bastards” in Halifax don't want to work.

In a statement Tuesday, the Conservative MP tried to clarify his remarks, saying what he meant was that many small businesses rely on foreign workers because of labour shortages.