On the Farm by Glen Ells: Temporary seasonal workers essential to farming

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José and I did some transplanting on Monday and Tuesday, so the big rain forecast for Thursday will be welcome.

José is a Cuban and he gets pretty concerned about some of the items on the TV news. For example, all the talk about offshore workers puzzled him until an interviewer asked the federal minister why the temporary seasonal worker program in agriculture seemed to be working so well. It soon became clear to my friend that it is in the non-farm sectors where the problems are developing. The minister pointed out that these workers in agriculture fill a need that is becoming very difficult to satisfy with local applicants. They sign a contract one season at a time and return to their home in the fall.

Some of the other sectors need workers all year and some businesses are set up based on lower labour costs made possible by the way they used the program, which was never the intent.

In agriculture, we don’t talk about cheap help anymore and pay well above the minimum wage for people that treat the job as a profession and act accordingly. Many forms have a mixture of local and offshore workers now. Large farms, which employ 50 to 100 seasonal workers, would have to shut down if the offshore program was terminated.

Presently, our farm has two workers, José and I, so we are 50/50 most of the time. I’m not sure what the future holds but our first harvest starts next year and I’m getting close to retirement. Stephen is running the farm now and he will have to deal with that problem.

In my humble opinion, the seasonal farm worker program, which brings workers here for a few months, is a very efficient foreign aid that’s happening. Workers from some of the countries involved can earn enough here to support their families all year. They contribute deductions (payroll) like all workers and make no demands on educational and social assistance funds. There is increased local business when they are here and the increased food production creates many local jobs.

It is to be hoped that some of the forces (both political and business) now at work don’t screw up this program, which is so important to the local economy.

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  • Kelly
    June 28, 2014 - 22:45

    To be honest, it is important to note that although the seasonal farm worker program was originally intended as a supplement to local labour during busy periods, it is now being used as a wholesale replacement of locals by some businesses seeking cheaper foreign workers. SAWP allows participants to remain in Canada 8 months of the year; the TFW agricultural stream allows for a 2 year work permit, hardly seasonal. Furthermore, if one would like to see the wages farmers are required to pay their foreign workers (I assure you that many large farms pay no more than the legally mandated minimum), that information can be found here: http://www.esdc.gc.ca/eng/jobs/foreign_workers/agriculture/general/index.shtml . For example, the current wage set for fruit, vegetables, flowers and Christmas trees in Nova Scotia: $10.40 an hour - minimum wage exactly and not a penny more.