18,000 seasonal workers to head home soon

December 03, 2018
Written by Foreign Agricultural Resource Management Services
Farmers across Ontario are nearing the end of another successful fall harvest, made largely possible by a seasonal labour program that has helped the province’s fruit and vegetable industry thrive for more than 50 years.

Approximately 18,000 workers from Mexico and the Caribbean were employed at approximately 1,450 Ontario farms this growing season, as a supplement to local labour. 

The Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP) was established in 1966 to respond to a severe shortage of domestic agricultural workers. It continues to serve the same role 52 years later.

“This program has proven once again how critical it is to our industry,” says Ken Forth, president of Foreign Agricultural Resource Management Services (F.A.R.M.S.), which administers the program. “Without SAWP there would be a lot of Ontario farmers who wouldn’t be able to stay in business and Ontario consumers would lose access to fresh, local food,”

While some of these seasonal workers will continue their placements for several more weeks, many are beginning to return home on a daily basis as they complete their work terms.

SAWP is a “Canadians first” program, which means supplementary seasonal farm labour is hired from partner countries only if farmers cannot find domestic workers willing to take the same jobs.

Farmers who rely on the program to meet their labour needs do hire Canadians. The challenge is that not enough domestic workers — Canadians who live in the rural areas where these farms are located — are interested in taking these positions, often because they are seasonal in nature.

In addition to helping farmers fill vacancies, SAWP also benefits workers by enabling them to improve the standard of living of their families, educate their children and buy and operate businesses and farms at home.

Of the many different temporary worker programs in Canada, SAWP is the only one that offers 24-hour-a-day assistance to workers directly with people from their home countries. Each country participating in the program maintains a liaison service or consular office in Ontario to help look after the general welfare of agricultural workers and help them navigate any issues or complications they may face while working here.

Ontario’s overall economy also benefits. It’s estimated that at least two jobs for Canadians are created in the agrifood industry for every seasonal agricultural worker employed through SAWP at Ontario farms.

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