The final group of seasonal workers who helped Ontario farmers through another successful growing season are set to return home to Mexico and the Caribbean over the next couple of weeks.
Approximately 18,000 men and women were hired by 1,450 Ontario growers through the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP) in 2019, filling vacancies at farms and greenhouses dealing with a chronic shortage of domestic labour.
The majority of these workers completed their work assignments earlier in the fall and returned home. The remaining workers will be on their way by December 15th at the latest.
“Ontario farms have had another strong season and consumers have had access to fresh, local food, thanks to SAWP,” said Ken Forth, president of Foreign Agricultural Resource Management Services (F.AR.M.S.), which administers the program. “This program has been critical to our industry for decades. We simply can’t attract enough people domestically who want to work in the agriculture industry on a seasonal basis.”
SAWP was established in 1966 to respond to a severe shortage of domestic agricultural workers. It continues to serve the same role today.
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.
The persistent shortage of domestic workers is costing Canadian farms approximately $1.5 billion per year and hurting Canada’s overall economic competitiveness, according to the study.
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.
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.