How Canada Approaches Seasonal Farm Labor

December 22, 2015 04:46 PM

For the past 49 years, Canadians say they have a seasonal farm labor system in place that works. The Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP) brought in around 17,000 seasonal workers from Mexico and the Caribbean to Ontario farms this summer and fall, and they are headed back home as the 2015 growing season winds down.

“This program has been providing a lifeline to growers across the province for nearly half a century,” says Ken Forth, president of Foreign Agricultural Resource Management Services (FARMS), the administrators of the program. “Without the steady source of reliable seasonal workers provided through SAWP, many farmers in Ontario’s agrifood industry simply couldn’t remain economically viable.

SAWP was set up in 1966 during a critical shortage of seasonal labor. It is a “Canadians first” program that supplements labor when domestic workers don’t fill all needed vacancies. This year, about 1,450 farms used the program.

Each participating country contributes liaisons, who recruit and select viable candidates and support workers on a wide range of issues while they are employed.

“About 80% of the seasonal workers opt to return on repeat contracts because they are able to earn far more than they can at home,” Forth says. “They’re able 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.”

The Canadian farms also provide seasonal housing, which must meet certain guidelines and are inspected on an annual basis for compliance.

According to FARMS, at least two Canadian jobs are created in the agrifood industry for every seasonal farm worker employed through the SAWP program. For more information, visit

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