“A lot of our jobs evaporate because of the season,” he said.
Most fresh produce growers in Ontario’s fruit and vegetable industry hire foreign workers with the program, he said.
“If the program evaporated, so would these crops, because there is not the labor here to do it,” he said.
Low local labor
Canada’s aging population combined with few people looking for seasonal employment makes it difficult for growers to attract farmworkers, he said.
“There are (Canadians) that do work on our farms, that operate equipment, but not many, and they are hard to find.”
F.A.R.M.S. brings in about 15,000 foreign workers every year to work on Ontario’s farms and about 1,000 to Atlantic provinces. The entire seasonal worker program accounts for 28,000 guest workers across all of Canada, Forth said.
Wages are calculated according to minimum wage rates in the provinces or the national prevailing wage rate, whichever is higher. Housing and transportation are also provided by growers, with workers contributing to transportation expenses depending on the length of their stay.
The program works for growers and guest workers, Forth said, with 75% to 85% of workers coming back year after year. Forth said a worker at his farm was back for his 29th year this year.
“They become part of who we are,” he said.
After the first and second world wars, many people displaced in Europe came to Canada and worked on farms, Forth said.
Now Canada’s immigration laws are strict, and the influx of workers doesn’t match demand. Canada brings in more than 350,000 guest workers every year to help out in fields such as construction, meat packing and even coffee shops, Forth said.
“(Canada) actually brings in more nannies every year than farmworkers,”he said.
The program has given farmworkers the money they need to help their families, Forth said.
“There are doctors and lawyers in place in Jamaica and other countries that were educated by their fathers working in this program and being able to pay for their education,” he said.
“That’s the real success of this thing.”
How would this program look in the U.S.?
Forth said he can’t really compare the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program to the U.S. H-2A agricultural guest worker program, since he hasn’t experienced the U.S. program. He thinks the programs have parallel purposes.
The difference, I think, is that industry in Canada is responsible for the efficiency or the “workability” of the guest worker program. In the U.S., Department of Labor bureaucrats are tasked with the job.