The Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program is seen as a model by other countries, says program president
DRESDEN, Ont. — Ontario farmers had misgivings about the Temporary Foreign Worker Program for low-skilled workers even before it was introduced as a pilot program in 2002.
Ken Forth, president of the organization that oversees the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program, said the federal government initially wanted to eliminate SAWP in favour of the low-skilled program.
That didn’t go over well with Forth and the other directors of Foreign Agriculture Resource Management Services.
“Hector (Delanghe) and I, Ken Porteous and others were up in Ottawa. We told them to leave it (SAWP) alone and separate,” Forth said.
“We were not happy campers that day. We told them 10 times to leave it alone, and they finally listened.”
Unlike the original low-skilled TFWP, SAWP takes a regulated approach to temporary agricultural jobs. Country-to-country agreements are involved along with an annual review, oversight and protections for employers and employees.
“Governments and agricultural organizations around the world are looking at this program as a model,” Forth said. “For decades, this program has provided Ontario farmers a steady source of reliable labour as a supplement to local labour. At the same time, it gives the seasonal workers well-paying employment, benefits and educational opportunities not available at home.”
On June 20, federal employment minister Jason Kenney and federal citizenship and immigration minister Chris Alexander announced extensive changes to TFWP.
Forth said SAWP and the agricultural stream of the TFWP in Ontario are both exempt from the changes. SAWP has always been regulated, and changes had earlier been quietly introduced to the agricultural, low-skilled stream. He said Kenney deserves credit for cleaning up TFWP, which was ripe for abuse by both employers and employees.
Forth, who grows broccoli near Hamilton, has hired SAWP employees for years. Some have been returning to his farm for seasonal work for decades.
The United Food and Commercial Workers union and other groups have criticized SAWP for not allowing workers an avenue to Canadian citizenship.
Forth said the assumption shouldn’t be made that all SAWP workers want to become Canadians. At the same time, he said Canada was built by immigrants from all walks of life.
Limiting permanent immigration to Canada based on personal wealth and education level may be something the federal government might reconsider, he added.