Ontario’s harvest is in, and much of the crop is perfectly suited to place alongside the turkey when feeding friends and family. And much of these crops were brought in from local fields by the estimated 17,000 seasonal workers from Mexico and the Caribbean who spend their summers in Ontario helping the domestic fruit and vegetable industry thrive.
“The Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP) program has been providing a lifeline to growers across the province for half a century,” says Ken Forth, President of Foreign Agricultural Resource Management Services (F.A.R.M.S.), which administers the program. “Without the steady source of reliable seasonal workers provided through SAWP, many farmers in Ontario’s agrifood industry simply couldn’t remain economically viable.”
Established in 1966 to respond to a critical shortage of available domestic agricultural workers, SAWP continues to serve the same role today, connecting Ontario farmers with supplementary seasonal labour from Mexico, Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad/Tobago and the Eastern Caribbean States.
Because SAWP is a “Canadians first” program, supplementary seasonal farm labour is hired from participating countries only if agricultural operators cannot find domestic workers to fill vacancies. Approximately 1,450 farms benefitted from the program this year.
Liaison services from each participating country are instrumental in recruiting and selecting top candidates for placement of successful applicants each year and provide workers support on a wide range of issues during their term of employment. Liaison services are open year round.
Incidentally, while Canadians are dining out on the bounty brought in by seasonal workers, they have all returned to their homes to spend the winter months — including the holidays — with their families. SAWP is the only worker temporary program that has all of their workers return home for the holidays. But they will be back for the 2018 season.
“About 80% of the seasonal workers opt to return on repeat contracts because they are able to earn far more than they can at home,” says Forth. “They’re able to provide a better standard of living to their families, pay for their children to attend school and learn skills needed to operate businesses of their own in their home countries.”
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.