THE VOICE OF ONTARIO'S FRUIT, VEGETABLE
AND GREENHOUSE PRODUCERS FOROVER 150 YEARS

Statement Regarding the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program

 

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Guelph ON, August 27, 2022 – Ontario’s fruit and vegetable growers are extremely concerned about the recent media attention regarding migrant workers under the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP).

Migrant workers are valued members of our communities and are integral to Ontario’s ability to grow fruits and vegetables. For decades, they have been supporting our farms with their labour, earning wages that support their families in their home countries. In Ontario, the annual arrival of our workers typically begins the first week of January to prepare for Canada’s relatively short growing season.

The fruit and vegetable sector expects that all workers on our farms have a safe place to work, are treated with dignity and respect, and that all government regulations are followed.

To have the privilege to hire foreign workers, farm employers must follow extensive requirements under by multiple levels of governments and government agencies:

  • Foreign workers in Canada through SAWP have the same workplace protections as Canadian workers, including, health care and workplace insurance coverage. They can also access Employment Insurance from the moment they arrive in Canada.
  • Foreign workers are paid the same wages for the same work as Canadians. Employers must pay their workers the highest of three possible rates: the province’s minimum wage, a standard seasonal agricultural rate set by the federal government and determined by the type of work being done, or the rate an employer would otherwise pay a Canadian worker doing the same job.
  • Foreign worker housing in Ontario is required to follow fire and building codes and local public health standards. All housing is supervised and inspected by government officials, local public health units and, for workers here under the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program, liaison officers from their home countries. Inspections are completed annually before workers are allowed to arrive on the farm. Ontario worker housing guidelines have set requirements including, but not limited to, providing housing that is pest free, has clean water and adequate sanitation facilities.
  • Foreign workers are expected to be trained on how to work safely on our farms. Farm workplaces are inspected by the Ontario Ministry of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development to ensure workplaces are safe.
  • Non-compliant employers are fined, placed on probation, or excluded from the program in the future if they fail to meet the program’s very high standards.

While in Canada, foreign workers have services and protections at their disposal to address concerns they have with their employer and/or workplace, including the Canadian Government’s 24/7 anonymous support centre that operates in every major language common to the SAWP and Temporary Foreign Worker Program, the worker’s home country liaison and ongoing inspections and audits of farms and housing conditions by the federal government, which often include interviews of workers.

Although the SAWP is rooted in history, the contract is reviewed and negotiated annually between the Canadian and the foreign governments involved in the SAWP program.  The current rules and conditions in the program are a reflection of years of agreement and refinements to the contract. The fruit and vegetable sector is in ongoing discussions with the federal government to ensure the program evolves to meet the needs of workers and farm employers.

The Honourable Karl Samuda, Minister of Labour and Social Security of Jamaica, was interviewed recently, making comments with respect to the recent media coverage on the treatment of SAWP workers in Ontario. His comments can be accessed here.

Without foreign works coming to Ontario every year, our farmers would not be able to produce food for Canadians. Farm employers take the responsibility of having these individuals on their farms very seriously. Without them, Ontario farmers couldn’t contribute to Canada’s food security.

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For more information:

Alison Robertson, Executive Director, OFVGA
519-827-5716 or arobertson@ofvga.org

Charles Stevens, Chair, OFVGA
905-259-5279 or charles@wilmotblueberries.com