Late March and early April is the arrival every year for many of the international migrant farm workers who come to Ontario through the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP) so they can begin working on getting orchards and vineyards ready for another year of fruit production.
That includes jobs like pruning, for example, which must be done every year before the leaves start to bud or else trees will produce less quality fruit and won’t stay as healthy as they should.
Many Ontarians aren’t aware of the key role that more than 17,000 seasonal workers from Mexico, Jamaica and the Caribbean play in growing and harvesting the more than 120 fruit and vegetable crops grown in the province. It’s certainly something that Chaplin White from Trelawny, Jamaica wishes was more widespread.
A farmer back home where he grows bananas, yams and plantains and raises livestock, he’s been coming to Canada for 15 years to work on Ontario horticulture farms.
“I like this program; it offers me an opportunity to assist in my children’s upbringing and welfare and I can send them to a good school,” he says. “I want Canadians to know that we are dedicated to what we do. I don’t think Canadians always appreciate the work that we do.”
The Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program was first launched in 1966 when a group of Jamaicans came to Ontario to help with apple harvest. Today, the government-approved program is open to workers from Mexico, Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago, Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean Islands, and many more workers come from other countries to work on Canadian farms and greenhouses through federally approved Temporary Foreign Worker programs.
It is common for many to return to the same farm year after year, where their experience and skills make them valued members of the farming business, like Dykelon Murray from Jamaica, who marked his 22nd season in Canada this past year. For the last 15 years, he’s been working at Ardiel Acres in the Georgian Bay area.
Many Ontarians also aren’t aware that international workers have the same rights and privileges as Canadian workers, notes Stefan Larrass, policy advisor with the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association.
Farmers who employ migrant farm workers under Canada’s officially recognized temporary foreign worker programs are subject to frequent federal, provincial and foreign government employer compliance inspections and workers have access to a multilingual, 24/7 federal government support line workers can use to raise concerns and seek help relating to their current employment.
“These employers have the same, and in some cases higher, obligations to their temporary foreign workers as they do for their Canadian employees, including government-approved wage rates, access to health care under OHIP, workplace insurance coverage and safety protection,” says Larrass. “It also includes access to Employment Insurance and the Canada Pension Plan, just like any Canadian employee is entitled to.”
Jamaican Delroy Martin first came to Canada over 30 years ago as a SAWP worker and has spent his entire career at Nighthawk Orchards. It’s not as cold here as it was when he first started coming to the Georgian Bay area to work and modern apple growing means smaller trees that are easier to handle, he says, adding he’s looking forward to retirement in a couple of years.
“The program has allowed me to build my house, afford a car and send my kids to school and I will receive my (Canadian) pension a couple of years down the line, which is great,” he says. “When I finish working here, I will always hold my head high and say I was proud to work in Canada.”
To learn more about migrant farm workers in Canada and read their stories, visit morethanamigrantworker.ca.