Canada has a reputation for being a technologically advanced nation when it comes to producing crops, with 160.2 million acres of farmland recorded in 2011.
Why Canada relies on foreign farm labourers
Despite the ever-growing demand for agricultural production and smart farming technology to produce more food as efficiently as possible, growers in Canada are facing an unprecedented labor shortage.
In Canada, job vacancy rates in agriculture are among the highest of any sector at 5.4%
A potentially successful farm may have everything ready to go: it can have all the right equipment and hundreds of fertile and irrigated acres, but still fail if farmers cannot get any local workers to apply for the positions needed to get the crops in the ground, maintain them, then harvest them months later.
The Government of Canada runs a Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP) which allows employers to hire temporary foreign workers (TFW) when Canadians and permanent residents are not available.
Most such workers work on farms planting crops, picking fruit, harvesting or preparing the land, among other related duties.
According to the Canadian law, these employers can hire TFWs from participating countries for a maximum period of 8 months, between January 1 and December 15, provided they are able to offer the workers a minimum of 240 hours of work within a period of 6 weeks or less.
To qualify for the SAWP, employers must meet 3 criteria:
- the TFWs hired must be citizens from Mexico or participating Caribbean countries
- production must be in specific commodity sectors
- the activity must be related to on farm primary agriculture
An important point to note is that for the 2022 SAWP season, work permits for SAWP indicate a 9-month work duration instead of the usual 8-month duration to accommodate the quarantine period (noting that work terms cannot exceed December 15, 2022).
Which countries participate?
The SAWP applies only to TFWs who are citizens from Mexico as well as the Caribbean countries of: Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, Montserrat, St. Kitts-Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad and Tobago.
The SAWP operates according to bilateral agreements between Canada and the participating countries.
Both the Canada and participating governments work together to ensure that the men and women selected to work temporarily in Canada meet all the requirements of the SAWP.
Requirements for foreigners to work on Canadian farms
Among the requirements for one to be recruited for the SAWP program is that one must be
- experienced in farming
- at least 18 years of age
- a citizen of one of the participating countries listed above
- able to satisfy the Canadian immigration laws, and laws of the worker’s home country.
Your rights as a Seasonal Agricultural Worker in Canada
Employers must always arrange and pay for the round-trip transportation of the temporary foreign worker (TFW).
Transportation includes travel to and from their place of work in Canada and their country of residence. The transportation modes for TFWs can plane, train, boat, car, bus, etc.
Employers can recover some of these costs through payroll deductions in all provinces except British Columbia.
The employment contract entitled Agreement for the employment in Canada for SAWP specifies the maximum amount that employers can deduct.
Employers must keep records of all transportation costs paid for a minimum of 6 years. Records may include invoices, receipts, flight itineraries, tickets, etc.
Employers must provide to the TFWs free roundtrip transportation. Employers need to ensure transportation between on-site or off-site accommodation and the workplace.
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Employers must provide TFWs with adequate, suitable and affordable housing as defined by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. Housing may be located on the farm or off-site.
Employers must ensure that the occupancy rate for each unit does not exceed the maximum allowable occupancy rate. Employers must also ensure that sufficient accommodation is available for all TFWs.
They also need to guarantee the number of accommodation places per approved housing from the date of arrival to the date of departure.
Employers must provide proof of inspection of the off-site or on-farm accommodation. The appropriate provincial, territorial or municipal authority must conduct the inspection.
An authorized private inspector with appropriate certifications may also conduct the inspections. The private inspector or the competent authority may not detain an official format for the housing inspection report.
The contract for employment in Canada for Seasonal Agriculture Workers includes private health insurance that covers emergency medical care for any period during which the TFW is not covered by the applicable provincial health insurance system.
Beginning September 26, 2022, all employers seeking to hire foreign nationals under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (including under the SAWP) will be required, at the time of their Labour Market Impact Assessment application, to agree to have a completed and signed employment agreement with each foreign worker on or before the first day of work.
The employment agreement must be drafted in either English or French, as preferred by the foreign worker, and be signed by both the employer and the foreign worker.
The worker must be provided a signed copy of the agreement. In addition, where possible, the worker should be provided a copy in their native language.
Seasonal agricultural workers are responsible to pay for their work permit fees directly to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.
Last but not least, the Canadian the employer must demonstrate that they made reasonable efforts to provide a workplace that is free of abuse.
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