Seasonal workers from five Caribbean countries and Mexico have already begun arriving on Ontario fruit and vegetable farms as a supplement to local labour for the upcoming growing season.
Approximately 2,500 men and women are already busy at greenhouses and farms across the province under the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP). By the height of the growing season, more than 17,000 workers are expected to be placed at more than 1,450 agricultural operations.
While most of these workers will spend several months away from their families on temporary work terms, they will all continue to have strong support from their home governments here in Ontario.
Each country participating in SAWP 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.
“Of the many different temporary worker programs in Canada, ours is the only one that offers 24-hour a day assistance to our workers directly with people from their home country through a liaison service. That is part of what make SAWP unique and also plays a significant role in why it’s so successful,” said Ken Forth, President of Foreign Agricultural Resource Management Services (F.AR.M.S.), which administers the program.
Liaison services from each participating country are open year round — their role contributes to a repeat of 80% of the seasonal agricultural workers each year. The liaison service is instrumental in recruiting and selecting the best candidates for placement of successful applicants each year on Ontario farms and provides workers support on a wide range of issues during their term of employment.
“Essentially the liaison staff act as advocates for the workers and help them with anything they need 24 hours a day — whether that’s a medical emergency, help with paperwork or help with issues they may be having at home,” Forthsaid.
Established in 1966 to respond to a critical shortage of available domestic agricultural workers, SAWP continues to serve the same role 51 years later, connecting Ontario farmers with a reliable source of supplementary seasonal labour. Because SAWP is a “Canadians first” program, supplementary seasonal workers are hired from participating countries only if agricultural operators cannot find domestic workers to fill vacancies.
It’s estimated that two jobs for Canadians are created in the agrifood industry for every seasonal agricultural worker employed through SAWP at Ontario farms.
A study released last summer by Guelph-based Agri-food Economic Systems identified SAWP as a key reason Ontario’s horticulture industry is able to generate $5.4 billion in economic activity and approximately 34,280 jobs.
The report found that chronic labour shortages continue to challenge the agricultural sector due to aging demographics, competition with other sectors and fewer numbers of young people pursuing careers in farming. As a result, demand for workers under SAWP is projected to remain steady.
In a recent report by the Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council, Saint Lucia’s Minister of Labour said SAWP has helped strengthen diplomatic and economic ties between participating Caribbean countries and Canada.
“Many who have benefitted from the programme have provided stability to their families, purchased property, built their homes, educated their children, and equipped society with first-class professionals, thus providing management capacity to our small island states,” said the Hon. Stephenson King.