Seasonal workers from Jamaica, Trinidad-Tobago, Barbados as well as several other countries in the Eastern Caribbean and Mexico have already begun arriving on Ontario fruit and vegetable farms as a supplement to local labour for the upcoming growing season.
Approximately 2,500 men and women are already busy at greenhouses and farms across the province under the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP). By the height of the growing season, more than 17,000 workers are expected to be placed at more than 1,450 agricultural operations.
Established in 1966 to respond to a critical shortage of available domestic agricultural workers, SAWP continues to serve the same role 51 years later, connecting Ontario farmers with a reliable source of supplementary seasonal labour. Because SAWP is a “Canadians first” program, supplementary seasonal workers are hired from participating countries only if agricultural operators cannot find domestic workers to fill vacancies.
It’s estimated that two jobs for Canadians are created in the agrifood industry for every seasonal agricultural worker employed through SAWP at Ontario farms.
A study released last summer by Guelph-based Agri-food Economic Systems identified SAWP as a key reason Ontario’s horticulture industry is able to generate $5.4 billion in economic activity and approximately 34,280 jobs.
The report found that chronic labour shortages continue to challenge the agricultural sector due to aging demographics, competition with other sectors and fewer numbers of young people pursuing careers in farming. As a result, demand for workers under SAWP is projected to remain steady.