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Fruit and vegetable farmers push back on reports of poor worker housing

Guelph ON – Ontario’s fruit and vegetable growers are pushing back on recent allegations of poor housing standards and lax inspections around employer-provided housing for seasonal agricultural workers.

Workers who come to Ontario through the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP) to work on fruit and vegetable farms have access to housing from their employers. This housing is built, occupied and operated according to official fire and building codes and local public health standards. All housing is supervised and inspected by federal and provincial government officials, local public health units, and liaison officers from the SAWP workers’ home countries. If there are any issues with housing, anonymous reports can be made to the federal government or liaison officers for appropriate investigation.

“As farmers who employ SAWP workers in Ontario, we are subject to multiple layers of legislation and inspection, and those who don’t follow the rules face penalties that include temporary suspension or even permanent removal from the program,” says Ken Forth, President of Foreign Agricultural Resource Management Services. “Farmers support a strong regulatory framework to protect the health and safety of seasonal agricultural workers in their working and living environments, and housing that does not meet government standards should not pass inspection.”

Ontario was one of the first provinces to establish a consistent housing standard for SAWP workers, which was developed and supported by Ontario’s local public health units. During 2020 farmers, health units and the Ontario government developed recommendations to further strengthen housing requirements in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Individual public health units also implemented their own quarantine accommodation requirements, some of which are the strictest in Canada.

“Farm employers of SAWP workers have been working hard since the beginning of the pandemic to adapt to evolving health and safety guidelines and meet federal quarantine requirements to protect workers and Canadians,” says Bill George, Chair of the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association. “The well-being and safety of all farm workers is top priority for farm employers. Without a strong workforce, Ontario’s farms cannot carry out their essential role of producing food for Canadians.”

Canada’s Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program has been in place since 1966 and is an essential cornerstone of the country’s fruit and vegetable production. It is open to workers from Mexico, Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago, Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean Islands, who come to Canada to work on fruit and vegetable farms annually for a defined period of time before going home for the winter. The program is approved by the government of Canada and the governments of the participating countries sending workers to Canada.

Source : OFVGA

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