Key issue: Labour
Labour is a key component of the horticultural industry. Many fruits and vegetables require significant manual labour to grow and harvest, and although work is ongoing to try to reduce the amount of labour required, many horticultural crops can not be grown and harvested using mechanized processes.
The OFVGA is actively involved with an organization called Foreign Agricultural Resource Management Services (FARMS), which manages the seasonal agricultural workers' program.
The OFVGA also played a key role in the establishment of the Labour Issues Co-ordinating Committee (LICC) and also works with the Farm Safety Association to address occupational health and safety concerns within the horticultural industry.
Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program
Fruit and vegetable production is very labour-intensive as many crops must be planted and/or harvested by hand. They also have very specific – and often short – planting or harvesting seasons so sometimes a lot of work has to be done very quickly.
In order to make sure fruit and vegetable farms had a steady work force, the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP) began in 1966 when a group of 264 Jamaican workers arrived in Ontario to harvest apples. Today, the program is available to only five countries, as stipulated in the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT): Mexico, Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago, Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean Islands.
If Canadian horticultural farm employers can’t find suitable Canadian employees, they can employ foreign workers through this program, which provides them with a much-needed, reliable labour source. The SAWP is a government-approved program and must not be confused with other temporary foreign worker programs available to Canadian employers. Here’s what sets it apart:
- Free, suitable accommodations must be provided to workers by farm employers.
- Health coverage – the same as Canadians get – is available immediately upon arrival.
- Canada Pension Plan and some Employment Insurance benefits, like parental leave, are available on approval to eligible workers.
- Provincial employment standards programs and workers’ compensation standards apply, just like for Canadian workers.
- A formal, four-way employment agreement between the employee, employer, foreign government, and government of Canada is in place.
- Same minimum hourly wage rate as Canadian workers doing the same job – and many earn a much higher rate. In fact, wages they earn working on Canadian farms far exceeds what they would be able to earn during the same time in their home countries.
For example, workers from Mexico have stated that they can earn as much in a three month stay in Canada as in one year in Mexico – IF they can find a job there.
Many families in the Caribbean have risen out of poverty because of the money they’ve been able to earn in Canada and bring back to their home country.
A job in Canada can mean being able to build a better house, enjoy better healthcare and sending children to high school, college or university.
About 20,000 workers come to Ontario every year as part of the SAWP – the only program of its kind in the world – and more than 85 per cent of workers are requested back annually.
Many workers have been with the same farmer for more than 20 or 30 years and some employers are now requesting the adult children of their workers to come and work with them as well.
Close relationships develop between many workers and the farm families they work for, and many workers also become involved in their adopted communities through volunteering and being part of local service clubs and church groups.
For every seasonal farm worker in Ontario horticulture, 2.2 full-time Canadian jobs are created in the agri-food industry?
If Canada had no workers under SAWP, over one half of the Canadian horticulture market would be lost to imports – and many popular but labour-intensive crops could no longer be grown here. (Source: Stevens Associates 2003 - Quest for a Reliable Workforce in the Horticulture Industry).
For more information, visit www.farmsontario.ca.
Labour Issues Co-ordinating Committee
The Labour Issues Co-ordinating Committee (LICC) is a farm-driven coalition representing the interests of Ontario employers in the agriculture and horticulture sector.
It was formed in May 1991 in order to develop consensus among the farm employer community on employment and labour issues, and to represent their collective position to government.
The focus of LICC is on policy, legislative, regulatory, and program developments related to labour relations, employment standards, workplace safety and insurance (workers' compensation), occupational health and safety, Ontario Works, and other related labour legislation.
The Employment Standards Act, and the Occupational Health and Safety Act and the potential unionization of the farm labour force have been at the forefront of issues the committee is dealing with on behalf of growers.