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Ontario organizations provide update on seasonal agricultural workers

An update on the situation surrounding incoming seasonal agricultural workers, including clarity around worker isolation, pay, and the latest news on worker arrivals.

April 3, 2020  By Fruit and Vegetable

Ontario organizations provided an update on the situation surrounding incoming seasonal agricultural workers, including providing clarity around worker isolation, pay, and the latest news on worker arrivals.

The Ontario Ministry of Health released its own guidance regarding temporary foreign workers, Guidance for Temporary Foreign Workers, on March 31. The document covers transportation, isolation protocols, screening requirements, how workers can access OHIP coverage, and more.

As of March 19, the government has temporarily removed the three-month waiting period requirement before OHIP coverage begins. Temporary foreign workers will need to meet the OHIP eligibility requirements to be enrolled in the plan.


Ontario’s guidance document follows the federal guidance document released on March 27. The Government of Canada’s document provides clarity around employer requirements and what they are required to provide including, pay, accommodation, and extra health and safety measures.

Employers must familiarize themselves with federal and provincial requirements as well as local requirements if specified by their local health units.

The Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association (OFVGA) and FARMS (Foreign Agricultural Resource Management Services) helped to clarify some of these employer obligations in their latest update.

Both organizations underscored the importance “that all growers are aware of their obligations as employers during the 14-day self-isolation period under the COVID-19 circumstances.”

“The 14-day isolation period for workers upon arrival is absolutely essential. At the time of this update, we have been advised by the federal government that workers shall not work during this isolation period. We don’t expect this to change, but if it does, we will advise employers of any changes,” the update read.

Clarifying compensation

The Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SWAP) employment contract stipulates that the worker is to receive payment for a minimum average of 40 hours per week over the term of employment. OFVGA and FARMS explained further that this means that when the worker’s term of employment is complete, the employer must make sure they have been paid an average of 40 hours per week from the start date of employment to the end date.

“This calculation needs to include the 14-day isolation period,” the update clarified. “This is what is meant by ‘going by the SAWP contract’ [found in the Government’s criteria for all employers].” The calculation no longer needs to include the 14-day isolation period as of the Government of Canada’s most recent update on April 5.

Other Temporary Foreign Worker Program obligations include that workers employed under the Ag Stream Low Skill and Low Wage programs must be paid a minimum of 30 hours per week during the 14-day self-isolation period.

Update: The Government of Canada clarified their criteria published on March 27, stating that “Employers are responsible for paying their temporary foreign workers for a minimum 30 hours per week during self-isolation, and at the rate of pay specified on the Labour Market Impact Assessment.” This requirement will also apply to workers in the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP) and the 14-day period of paid self-isolation will be in addition to the minimum 240 hours of pay as specified in the SAWP contract. 

As seen above, the update from OFVGA misstated that SAWP workers would have to be paid a minimum 40 hours per week during the isolation period. This is not the case, and all workers – SAWP, Ag Stream Low Skill and Low Wage programs – must be paid a minimum of 30 hours per week during the 14-day self-isolation period. Refer to the Government of Canada’s Frequently asked questions: Changes to the Temporary Foreign Workers program regarding COVID-19 for more clarification. 

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) confirmed temporary foreign workers are not eligible for federal financial assistance programs, such as the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy and Canada Emergency Response Benefit, announced in response to COVID-19. Update: Employment and Social Development Canada has now, as of April 9, confirmed that temporary foreign workers can be eligible for Employment Insurance (EI) or the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB). In both cases, temporary foreign workers are subject to the same eligibility criteria as Canadians and permanent residents. 

However, the Canadian Federation of Agriculture is exploring financial assistance options to help with the extra costs related to bringing seasonal workers to Canada this year.

FARMS flight update

FARMS, who coordinated charter flights for seasonal agricultural workers, provided flight updates from Mexico and Jamaica.

As of April 2, FARMS received approval from Mexican government officials that farm workers will be travelling as soon as measures are in place to complete the process of contacting workers. CanAg Travel Services, the authorized travel agent for worker program, will be advising employers directly when flights are finalized.

The first flight from Jamaica arrived in Toronto on April 1, with subsequent flights scheduled for April 3 and April 5.

In the update, FARMS apologized for the short notice about flight arrivals given to employers.

Approximately 4,600 more workers were scheduled to arrive by mid-April until travel restrictions were put in place on March 18, 2020. Plus, an additional 8,800 workers are expected by mid-June.

About 8,000 seasonal and other temporary workers are working in Ontario right now, primarily in greenhouses.

Spring work includes pruning fruit trees and planting crops. If these skilled essential workers are not in Ontario at the beginning of the season to help with spring work, there will not be a crop to harvest later in the season.

A list of Canadian government resources for temporary foreign workers and COVID-19:

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