Quick Ref Q & A


1.  When did the seasonal agricultural workers program begin? Why?

In 1966 there were 263 Jamaican workers brought to Ontario to pick apples to fill a shortage of Canadian apple pickers. To bring foreign workers to Canada in 1966 was also looked at as a form of foreign aid.

2.  Are Mexico and Caribbean workers hired in place of available domestic seasonal labour?

No. The Mexico / Caribbean Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program operates on a Canadian First basis and only when the employers attempt to hire domestic seasonal labour is unsuccessful the employer can apply to meet their seasonal labour needs under the program.

3.  Is there still a shortage of domestic seasonal horticultural workers in Ontario?

Yes. There are many different horticultural sectors that face a shortage in available domestic seasonal labour.

4.  What Foreign countries are selected to supply seasonal agricultural workers under this program?

The Foreign countries to provide seasonal workers under the Commonwealth Caribbean / Mexico Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program are Mexico, Jamaica, Republic of Trinidad & Tobago, Barbados and the Organization of the Eastern Caribbean states that include, Antigua and Barbuda, Commonwealth of Dominica, Grenada, Montserrat, St. Kitts-Nevis, Saint Lucia and St. Vincent and The Grenadines.

5.  Can other countries provide seasonal agricultural workers for this program?

No. These five countries were grandfathered under GATT recognizing the long standing Memorandum of Understanding signed between the Canadian Government and Foreign Governments of each country for seasonal agricultural farm workers in the horticulture sectors.

6.  Is there an employment agreement that governs the conditions of employment?

Yes. There is one Agreement for the Employment in Canada of Commonwealth Caribbean Agricultural Workers and one Agreement of the Employment in Canada of Seasonal Agricultural Workers from Mexico.The Agreement covers all aspects of the conditions of employment. The Agreement is reviewed with the worker who is requested to sign it prior to departing for Canada. The agreement is a four party agreement between the Worker, the Employer, the Foreign Government, and the Government of Canada.

7.  Who acts on behalf of the worker in respect to the agreement?

The Foreign Governments are required to appoint one or more agents in Canada for the purpose of ensuring the smooth functioning of the program. If a situation occurs between employer and worker the Foreign Agent is called on to assist.

8.  How do foreign workers become eligible for this program?

Each Foreign Government through their Ministry of Labour has established their own recruitment process to obtain names of those individuals who wish to apply to be selected as a seasonal agricultural worker under the program.

9.  What process must a selected worker undergo before being approved for the program?

Selected workers must – undergo a medical exam by a health services doctor approved by Canadian Government health authorities; they are also screened for criminality; capable of performing agricultural work; must be eighteen year of age. Upon approval workers are asked to view a video provided at the Ministry of Labour on the actual work and working conditions in various types of crops.

10.  Do all selected workers complete their period of employment?

No. There are many reasons why a worker will return home prior to the completion of their period of employment. This being determined a farm worker can return home and a ticket will be made available as soon as possible.

11.  What type of health coverage is available to the worker?

In Ontario workers are covered under provincial OHIP immediately upon entry. There is no waiting period. Repeat workers have their provincial health card numbers renewed and new workers are taken by their employer to a Ministry of Health and Long Term Care office or outreach site for processing.

12.  Do workers have access to medical attention prior to receiving their provincial health card?

Yes. A worker when registered with provincial health can provide the attending physician their ‘transaction record’ document allowing the doctor or hospital to obtain confirmation about the OHIP coverage. If the ‘transaction record’ is not available the individual can sign a ‘health number release’ form allowing the Ministry to release information to the health care provider. In cases where health coverage can not be confirmed payment will be required however, payment can be recovered from that provider at a later date once the coverage is confirmed and the claim has been paid by OHIP.

13.  Do workers have any other medical coverage?

Yes. All participating foreign countries obtain on behalf of the workers a supplementary extended medical, dental and insurance plan at a minimal cost to the worker.

14.  What about Workplace Safety and Insurance (WSIB) coverage? Are the workers covered?

Yes. All workers are covered from the moment they enter Ontario until they depart. It is mandatory by law. WSIB provides coverage for work related accidents.

15.  Are there any Safety programs available to the workers?

Yes. There are a number of services available. The Farm Safety Association can provide excellent sources of training material and on farm safety audits. Ridgetown College, University of Guelph offers a Pesticide Education Program in Ontario in adherence to regulation by the Ontario Ministry of the Environment (MOE). Effective 01 January 2000 MOE requires all farm employees who handle Schedule 2 and 5 pesticides to undergo safety training.

16.  Is there any cost to the worker for seasonal housing?

No. Seasonal housing is provided at the expense of the employer, this includes the cost of all utilities and annual maintenance.

17.  Is seasonal housing covered by any guidelines?

Yes. Seasonal housing is required to be inspected annually by the local Ministry of Health office. Ministry of Health is required to provide testing to ensure the water is bacteriological safe and the housing unit is approved for the number of occupants that meet the cubic feet per individual guideline. The employer is required to maintain the property in good repair, provide the necessary facilities per number of individuals (stove, fridge, washer, dryer, washroom facilities, etc.) Fire detectors are mandatory as well as other sections of the Ontario Fire Code.

18.  Do the Foreign Government agents play a role in approving seasonal housing?

Yes. Foreign Government agents will either automatically inspect seasonal housing or will use a combined approach of receiving the inspection approval from the Ministry of Health in place of inspecting a unit themselves.

19.  Are seasonal agricultural workers subject to regular payroll deductions for Income Tax, Employment Insurance and contributions to the Canada Pension Plan?

Yes. Seasonal agricultural workers are eligible at retirement and upon approval to receive monthly payments from their contributions to the Canada Pension Plan. Workers are subject to deductions for Employment Insurance and in approved cases can collect benefits recognizing the work is insured and not the worker. Income Tax is deducted based on TD1 information, total world income and whether an exemption treaty exists between their country and Canada. Income Tax filing is mandatory and in most cases the worker will be refunded the income tax deducted.

20.  Can workers be employed by more than one employer?

The seasonal agricultural workers program has the facility to Transfer workers from one employer to another provided the necessary criteria is met. Employers wishing to receive workers by transfer must have a transfer request approved by the local Human Resources Skills Development Centre. The worker wishing to transfer would advise their current employer of their interest to do so. The worker is still within the eight month length of employment requirement and would be reaching the completion of the term of employment with the first employer. The Foreign Government agent is also required to approve the transfer request prior to the actual transfer. Assistance is provided by F.A.R.M.S. and the Foreign Government agents to match a worker with a second employer.

21.  Who pays the travel costs?

The cost of travel is initially paid by the employer. On a yearly basis an agreement is reached with the Foreign Governments for the employer to recover a percentage, to a maximum amount, of the travel cost from the worker through payroll deduction, over the duration of the workers stay.

22.  Are foreign workers covered under the OHSA?

Yes, for detailed information contact the ministry of labor.