On this page:
Last Update: March 23, 2006.
The Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program
The Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP) is a guest worker program that attempts to respond to the labour shortage in the Canadian agricultural sector. This program is authorized by the federal government through the Department of Human Resources and Skills Development (HRSDC) and administered by privately run user-fee agencies. In Ontario and Nova Scotia the Foreign Agricultural Resource Management Services (F.A.R.M.S) administers the program and F.E.R.M.E. functions in the same capacity for Quebec, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.
Jamaican workers started to migrate to Canada in 1966 under the SAWP. In 1974 the program was extended with Mexican workers. Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados and the Organization of the Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) (Antigua and Barbuda; Commonwealth of Dominica; Grenada; Montserrat; St. Kitts-Nevis; Saint Lucia; St. Vincent and The Grenadines) also joined thereafter. The SAWP operates in Alberta, Quebec, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Ontario which receives 90% of workers.
Indigenous Maya Quiche farm workers from Guatemala were recruited to work in Quebec for the first time in the summer of 2003 through a "low skill" type of guest worker program. Guest workers from other Central American countries may be forthcoming in the near future. HRSDC is also planning to extend this type of guest worker program in the construction, hospitality and tourism industries throughout Canada. Mexico is also seeking to expand guest worker programs in the United States, Spain and Japan. British Columbia was incorporated to the program for the first time in 2004.
Employers request workers through F.A.R.M.S./F.E.R.M.E. with the approval of HRSDC. Migrant sending countries select and screen workers. Workers and employers sign a contact that outlines respective rights and obligations and length of employment that generally ranges between 3 to 8 months. Workers that win the approval of employers are "named" and requested back on the farms. A "named" worker is entitled to a additional rights that are not granted to "unnamed" or new workers to the program. New SAWP participants are sent to the same farm for the first 2 years. Thereafter, s/he may be relocated to another farm if they are not requested by their original employer.
Workers are sent home as soon as their contracts expire. They have to report back to their home countries with evaluation forms from their employers. A negative report can result in suspension from the program. Workers also have to report the treatment of they received from their Canadian employers. Most migrant farmworkers prefer to provide a neutral report to avoid delays in being processed to return to work in Canada.
18,000 migrant farm workers from the Caribbean and Mexico arrive in
Canada to work in our fields, orchards and greenhouses every year.
Most workers are men but women also participate. Married men and single
mothers are usually recruited into the program. In 2003 199 women were
employed in the program and in 2004 the number fluctuated to 277. Commodities
that workers engage in include: Apiary, Tobacco Flue, Tobacco Black,
Canning/Food Processing (fruit and vegetables), Nurseries, Vegetables,
Greenhouse Vegetables, Fruit (including apples), Flowers and Sod. The
hourly wage increased to $8 /hr in all of these commodities except
in Apiary which is set at $ 8.17 /hr and Sod set at $8.63. Mechanically
harvested tobacco flue is also paid differently. The first kiln filled
in a day is paid $80 and thereafter workers are to be paid hourly for
the remainder of the work day. Tobacco Black harvesting hourly wage
Mexican and Caribbean Migrant Workers According to Provinces, 2002
(Source HDRC, Verma 2003, Becerril 2003)
Canadian government insists that foreign agricultural workers are treated
the same as Canadian workers but nothing can be further from the truth.
Migrant workers face an array of issues that the SAWP, Canadian government
and participating governments fail to address. First of all, migrant
workers are painfully separated from their families and communities
to make a living. They are often isolated in rural communities where
life revolves solely around the farm. Language barriers, mobility problems
and cultural differences manifesting themselves in outright racism
segregates and excludes migrant workers from the rest of their host
rural communities. Migrant workers perform rigorous and often dangerous
rural labour that few Canadians choose to do. Many workers are reluctant
to stand up for their rights since employers find it easier to send
workers home (at their own expense) instead of dealing with their serious
concerns. Fear and the structure of the SAWP (i.e. lack of appeal mechanisms,
high turn over rate of migrant workers and lack of monitoring) silences
the struggles of migrant workers. Some workers never return to the
program due to mistreatment. Others attempt to relocate to other farms.
But most of the time workers are not granted transfers because it requires
approval from the employer in question and consulate liaison officers.
Many workers remain silent out of fear from being expelled from the
restructuring through Structural Adjustment Programs ordered by International
Financial Institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and
the World Bank and free trade agreements such as NAFTA have devastated
the economies of the Global South. National industries, particularly
agriculture, have been destroyed. Most of the workers that participate
in the SAWP are dispossessed or struggling small farmers from poor
rural regions that are forced to migrate for a living wage.
Canada has historically relied on migrant labour to literally build the nation. Chinese migrant workers made the federalist dream of a national railroad possible. South Asian migrant workers tamed the fields in Western Canada. Today migrant workers are indispensable in domestic work, construction and agriculture. Regardless of the importance of migrant workers to Canada's past and present they have been constantly denied basic human rights and citizenship.
Canada has profited immensely from the plight of migrants of the south. The low wages of migrant workers have proliferated a multi-million agricultural industry in Canada. Despite the importance of migrant workers to our economy and food production they are among the most marginalized labour force in Canada.
Justicia for Migrant Workers urges Canadians to rethink the SAWP and to extend the rights of citizenship and STATUS to migrant workers and their families. Justicia also advocates for a more egalitarian world, where economic policies are framed around sustainable communities that do not displace workers from their communities and livelihoods.
References and further reading:
HRSDC Contract for Caribbean Workers