TORONTO: Farmers across Ontario welcomed the return of thousands of seasonal labourers who help the province’s fruit and vegetable industry thrive.
Approximately 16,000 workers from Mexico and the Caribbean have been placed at Ontario farms this growing season as a supplement to local labour under the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP).
This is the 49th year the program has operated in Ontario, allowing many farms to remain viable in the face of critical shortages of suitable and available Canadian workers. Approximately 1,450 farms will benefit from the program this year.
Because SAWP is a “Canadians first” program, supplementary seasonal farm labour is hired from other countries (Mexico, Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad/Tobago and the Eastern Caribbean States) only if agricultural operators cannot find domestic workers to fill vacancies.
“Nearly half a century after it was created, this program continues to serve the same vital function on an even larger scale,” says Ken Forth, president of Foreign Agricultural Resource Management Services (F.AR.M.S.), which administers the program. “Without SAWP and steady supply of reliable labour, some operations would be forced to stop growing fruits and vegetables altogether, or move into less labour-intensive crops.”
A couple thousand workers have been in Ontario this season since mid-winter, working at greenhouses largely in the Leamington and Niagara areas. Others began arriving over the past few weeks to assist with field work, fruit tree pruning and other important jobs.
The vast majority of seasonal workers opt to return on repeat contracts because they are able to earn far more than they can at home. This allows them to provide a better standard of living to their families, pay for their children to attend school and learn skills needed to operate businesses of their own in their home countries.
Not only does SAWP benefit Ontario farmers and workers, but also the province’s overall economy.
“It’s estimated that at least two jobs for Canadians are created in the agrifood industry for every seasonal agricultural worker employed through SAWP at Ontario farms,” Forth said.