The 2012 growing season may be behind in Canada, but Foreign Agricultural Resource Management Services (F.A.R.M.S.) is already busy putting plans together with its international partners for spring 2013 when more than 15,000 seasonal workers will return to Ontario farms.

The 2012 season saw more than 15,600 workers from several Caribbean countries employed at Ontario agricultural operations through the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP), providing a much-needed supply of labor because of the ongoing shortage of suitable and available local Canadian workers.

F.A.R.M.S. representatives will meet with government officials from Jamaica, Mexico, Trinidad and Tobago and the East Caribbean over the winter to finalize arrangements for the program to assist Ontario farmers for a 47th year in 2013.

“Governments and agricultural organizations around the world are looking at this program as a model,” F.A.R.M.S. president Ken Forth says.  “For decades, this program has provided Ontario farmers a steady source of reliable labor as a supplement to local labor. 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 labor-intensive crops.”