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Halfway through another strong growing season in Ontario, a seasonal labour program created more than half a century ago continues to prove its worth and put fresh, local food on dinner tables across the province.
More than 1,450 Ontario farms are tapping into the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP) this summer to fill job vacancies that would make it impossible for them to grow labour-intensive crops such as fruit and vegetables.
Approximately 18,000 seasonal workers from Mexico and the Caribbean are supplementing local labour at Ontario farms through SAWP, ensuring crops can be planted, tended and harvested for market.
“Without a steady supply of reliable seasonal workers, many farms and greenhouses simply wouldn’t have enough hands on deck to do the work required to grow local produce,” says Ken Forth, president of Foreign Agricultural Resource Management Services (F.AR.M.S.), which administers the program.
One of the key factors that sets SAWP apart from many other temporary foreign worker programs is the hands-on oversight and involvement of government officials in Canada and all participating countries.
The federal government and the Province of Ontario regularly monitor the program and ensure participating growers are adhering to all labour and housing laws. Farms employing seasonal workers are subject to random integrity audits by the federal government to identify any issues of non-compliance.
Seasonal workers employed through SAWP sign contracts that guarantee them all of the protections and benefits that Canadian workers receive, including WSIB, certain EI benefits and provincial health care coverage.
Each country participating in SAWP maintains a year-round liaison service or consular office in the province to help look after the general welfare of agricultural workers. The liaison services are instrumental in recruiting and selecting the best candidates for placement of successful applicants each year on Ontario farms.
Liaison staff also act as advocates for the workers and help them with anything they need 24 hours a day — whether that’s a medical emergency, help with paperwork or help with issues they may be having at home while working here.
The vast majority of men and women who find seasonal employment at Ontario farms through SAWP are grateful for the opportunity for well-paying work they can’t get at home. Approximately 85 per cent of the workers opt to return on repeat contracts in an average year — many of them have been working through the program over the course of decades.
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