Fruit & Vegetable Magazine

COVID-19 Updates News Labour
Seasonal ag workers returning to Ontario help with labour shortage


January 26, 2022
By Fruit & Vegetable

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Seasonal agricultural labourers are already returning to Canada to prepare for the greenhouse and horticultural growing season.

Approximately 3,000 seasonal workers from Mexico and the Caribbean began arriving this month at greenhouses in the Leamington area, Niagara and other parts of Ontario under a seasonal labour program that is critical to the success of the province’s thriving fruit and vegetable industry.

Employers in Windsor-Essex were told on Jan. 12 by the acting medical officer of health, Dr. Shanker Nesathurai, to cancel or postpone the arrival of temporary foreign workers (TFWs) arriving between Jan. 13 and Feb. 1. The order was rescinded a few days later, and Nesathurai apparently received separate letters from Parm Gill, minister of citizenship and multiculturalism, and the province’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Kieran Moore, calling his actions an overreach of his position’s mandate and discriminatory towards “a vulnerable population that has already been disproportionally impacted by the pandemic,” according to Gill.

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The Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP) has operated for 56 years in Ontario, helping growers affected by a chronic shortage of domestic labour to fill vacancies. In total, roughly 18,000 workers are expected to be placed at about 1,450 Ontario farms this growing season.

“The greenhouse supplies a significant portion of our fresh, local produce sector and is very important to Ontario’s economy. Without this program to supplement local labour, the greenhouse industry wouldn’t be able to function effectively and we’d lose a valuable food source,” says Ken Forth, president of Foreign Agricultural Resource Management Services (FARMS), which administers the program.

SAWP is a “Canadians first” program, which means supplementary seasonal farm labour is hired from partner countries only if farmers cannot find domestic workers willing to take the same jobs. It’s estimated that at least two jobs for Canadians are created in the agri-food industry for every seasonal agricultural worker employed through SAWP at Ontario farms.

The persistent shortage of domestic workers is costing Canadian farms approximately $1.5 billion per year and hurting Canada’s overall economic competitiveness, according to the study.

For more information about Canada’s Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program, visit www.farmsontario.ca.