Setting the Record Straight on Misconceptions over the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program
MISSISSAUGA, Ont. (April 4, 2019) – A labour program that was created more than 50 years ago to counter a chronic shortage of domestic seasonal farm workers is again helping Ontario farmers put fresh, local foods on the tables of Canadian families.
The Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP) has provided Ontario fruit and vegetable growers a vital source of supplementary labour since 1966.
More than 4,000 workers from Mexico and the Caribbean have already arrived at Ontario farms and greenhouses this year through the program. In total, roughly 18,000 workers are expected to be placed at about 1,450 Ontario farms this growing season.
Not only does SAWP benefit farmers and Canada’s economy as a whole, but also it gives the seasonal workers well-paying employment, benefits and educational opportunities not available to them at home.
Despite these benefits, there continues to be misperceptions and inaccurate generalizations about SAWP in some circles. Among them:
Myth: Unemployed Canadians who want to work on fruit and vegetable farms are being denied jobs because growers are hiring temporary seasonal workers through SAWP.
Reality: SAWP was created in 1966 to help farmers respond to a shortage of agricultural labour and the program continues to serve the same role today. SAWP is a Canadians-first program, which means that seasonal labour is hired from participating countries only if agricultural operators cannot find domestic workers to fill vacancies. A 2016 report by the Conference Board of Canada found that agricultural labour shortages had doubled over the previous decade and are projected to double again in the coming decade. The report, based on three years of labour market research, projects Canada’s agricultural sector will be short approximately 114,000 workers by 2025.
Myth: Seasonal labour hired through SAWP are paid less than Canadian workers.
Reality: Seasonal workers hired through SAWP receive an hourly wage set by Employment and Social Development Canada. The hourly rate is not less than the provincial minimum wage rate or the local prevailing rate paid to Canadians doing the same job, whichever is greatest.
Myth: Seasonal workers hired through SAWP aren’t covered by the same employment rights as Canadian agricultural workers.
Reality: Workers hired through SAWP fall under the same employment rights as Canadians receive, such as WSIB, certain Employment Insurance benefits, occupational health and safety and provincial health care during their term of employment.
Myth: There is no oversight for growers who hire workers through SAWP.
Reality: One of key factors that sets SAWP apart from many other temporary foreign worker programs is the hands-on oversight and involvement of government officials in Canada and all participating countries. The federal government and the Province of Ontario regularly monitor the program and ensure participating growers are adhering to all labour and housing laws. Farms employing seasonal workers are subject to random integrity audits by the federal government to identify any issues of non-compliance.
Myth: Housing for seasonal workers on agricultural operations is not subject to any guidelines.
Reality: Seasonal housing — provided at the expense of the employer — must be inspected annually by local Ministry of Health officials. Water is tested to ensure it meets safety standards and the housing unit is inspected to ensure it meets provincial guidelines. Employers are required to maintain seasonal housing units in good repair
Myth: Ontario fruit and vegetable farmers don’t need SAWP to grow our food.
Reality: Without the program most Ontario farmers simply couldn’t continue to grow fruits and vegetables. Some would move into less labour-intensive crops, while others would abandon agriculture altogether. Recent labour market research by the Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council cited the program as a key reason Ontario’s horticulture industry is able to generate $5.4 billion in economic activity and approximately 34,280 jobs.
About the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program:
Canada’s Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP) is administered in Ontario by Foreign Agricultural Resource Management Services (F.A.R.M.S.). More information about the program can be found at www.farmsontario.ca
Vice President, Public Relations