Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program eyed as a model around the world
MISSISSAUGA With spring well underway, the world’s most successful program connecting seasonal workers with agricultural employers has kicked into high gear. Administered by Foreign Agricultural Resource Management Services (F.A.R.M.S.), the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP) links approximately 15,000 requests for seasonal workers with jobs at Ontario farms this growing season.
Not only does the 47-year-old program provide a long list of benefits to the workers and the farmers, but also it creates two Canadian jobs in the agrifood industry for every worker employed through SAWP at Ontario agricultural operations, says Ken Forth, president of F.A.R.M.S.
“Governments and agricultural organizations around the world are looking at this program as a model,” Forth says. “For decades, this program has provided Ontario farmers a steady source of reliable labour as a supplement to local labour. At the same time it gives the seasonal workers well-paying employment, benefits and educational opportunities not available at home.”
Seasonal workers employed at Ontario farm operations through SAWP:
• Sign contracts that guarantee them all the protections and benefits that Canadian workers receive, including WSIB, certain EI benefits and provincial health care coverage.
• Receive an hourly wage rate set by Human Resources & Skills 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.
• Earn up to five times more than they could in their own countries, which enables them to support their families, educate their children and buy and operate businesses and farms in their own countries.
Farmers have also realized great benefits from the program for more than 40 years, enabling them to hire staff that would otherwise be extremely challenging to find because of the ongoing shortage of suitable and available local Canadian workers.
“Ontario farmers pay the highest farm worker wages in North America and face intense competition from low-wage competitors,” Forth says. “Without this program, many Ontario farmers simply couldn’t continue to grow fruits and vegetables. They’d stop growing altogether or move into less labour-intensive crops.