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Ontario Farm Jobs a Coveted Opportunity for Seasonal Workers

It was an emotional day for Jamaican Adam Arboine when he found out that he’d been accepted into Canada’s Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP). The news meant a coveted seasonal job in an Ontario vineyard – an opportunity to earn money to support his family that has brought him to Ontario for more than 22 years. 

“I was working in landscaping in Jamaica and a member of the Ministry of Labour came by and introduced me to the program,” he recalls. “When I first found out I got into the program, I was so happy. I had been waiting for so long for that call.”   

Arboine is one of approximately 17,000 seasonal foreign workers who come to Ontario through SAWP every year to fill essential jobs growing and harvesting the homegrown produce Ontarians love. 

This government program has been in place since 1966, when 264 Jamaican workers came to Ontario to help with apple harvest. Today, the government-approved program is open to workers from Mexico, Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago, Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean Islands, who come to Canada to work for a defined period before returning home for the winter. 

For the workers, securing a SAWP job in Canada is a valuable opportunity to earn money not available to them in their home countries. Workers apply from home in their home countries and sign legal, government-audited contracts to accept employment that reflect decades of collaborative negotiations between Canada and the workers’ home countries. 

For Canadian growers, the program offers a reliable, experienced workforce without whom many fruit and vegetable crops couldn’t be grown here. That’s because most fresh produce crops are delicate and need to be managed, harvested and packed by hand to ensure they meet strict market specifications for quality and appearance. 

Once here, government regulations mean these workers have the same employment-related rights and benefits as local workers doing the same work, and farm employers are subject to frequent federal, provincial and foreign government compliance inspections to ensure the rules are being followed. 

Vincent (Tony) Howard has been working at the same southern Ontario farm for more than 40 years, which has let him provide for his wife and three sons, build a home and help other family and friends. 

“Here I work with good people, I keep coming back year after year and I always look forward to being with them. They are like my family away from home,” he says. “When I go back home and have to hire somebody, it is the same money that I make here that I use to pay them, so the money stretches a long way.” 

For most workers, the hardest part about their seasonal jobs in Canada is being away from home, and although technology has made it easier to stay in touch with friends and family, going home at the end of the season is something that is eagerly anticipated. 

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