The Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP) allows Canadian employers to hire temporary farm workers from Mexico and 11 countries in the Caribbean for up to eight months every year. It mandates that jobs must be in the agricultural sector, and workers must have prior farming experience. To hire workers under the SAWP, an employer must submit a labour market assessment to Employment and Skills Development Canada (ESDC), the government agency in charge of the foreign worker programmes. That assessment verifies what impact hiring foreign workers would have on the Canadian job market. Qualified foreign workers have the opportunity to become permanent residents if that is their desire" through two Canadian immigration mechanisms,
The SAWP is one of three branches under Canada's Temporary Foreign Worker Program. The Live-In Caregiver Program brings in workers to assist the elderly or young in their homes, while other Temporary Foreign Workers work jobs that Canadians generally do not want to do, from fast-food restaurants to construction and the oil industry.
The number of temporary agricultural workers in Canada more than doubled in about a decade, going from just over 20,000 workers in 2004 to 41,700 workers in 2013. According to preliminary government figures, just over 40,100 temporary agricultural workers were employed in Canada last year. Seasonal agricultural workers in Canada are tied to their employers. This puts the workers at risk of exploitation, and having their work permits terminated or being repatriated with little to no warning or recourse
When he was leader of the opposition, now-Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the TFWP "needs to be scaled back dramatically over time, and refocused on its original purpose: to fill jobs on a limited basis when no Canadian workers can be found. Canada needs to re-commit itself to bringing permanent immigrants here who have a path to citizenship. This would return us back to first principles and the purpose of immigration: nation building."
Earlier this year, the government launched a federal review of the programme but critics say the review process was skewed in favour of employers, and groups lobbying for the workers' rights were excluded from the consultations.
Tanya Ferguson, an organiser with Justicia for Migrant Workers (JMW), explained "Essentially they’re in work environments and relationships where they have no power at all … They're completely at the mercy of their employer. If you risk being terminated plus being repatriated to your country, you’re not going to do things that are in your own interests or protect your own safety."
Seasonal farm worker Kevin Campbell has alleged that his employer sent him back to his native Jamaica with just two-days' notice after he injured his back falling off a lift at work in Ontario. Campbell was sent back before he could access medical treatment. A 2014 study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal Open found that 787 migrant farm workers in Ontario were repatriated to their home countries due to medical and surgical needs, or injuries, between 2001-2011.
JMW have that launched the "Harvesting Freedom" campaign aimed to put pressure on Ottawa to give SAWP workers the ability to apply for permanent immigration status. It also hopes to connect seasonal agricultural workers to each other, raise Canadians’ awareness about their poor working conditions. A caravan of activists left from Windsor, Ontario, on Tuesday, and an Ontario-wide tour will end in Ottawa on October 1, with stops in almost two-dozen Canadian cities along the way.
"Every fruit, every vegetable, that is placed on the dinner table, there is a lot of injustice associated with it." Gabriel Allahdua from Saint Lucia said.
To contact the Socialist Party of Canada
Socialist Party of Canada: PO Box 31024, Victoria, B.C., Canada V8N 6J3