Canada’s Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program gets mixed reviews


Chris Ramsaroop, Audia Barnett and Gabriel Allahdua

A new study has found that participants in Canada’s Seasonal Agricultural Worker Programme (SAWP), including those from the Caribbean, can earn up to five times more than they could in their own countries.

According to the “Report on the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Programme,” conducted by the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), the programme’s over 25,000 seasonal workers in Canada obtain a number of benefits through their participation, including greater opportunities to purchase homes and vehicles in their home countries, educate their children, access better healthcare, increase their savings and purchase land and livestock.

The research study on SAWP shows favourable benefits and inherent opportunities for supporting agricultural development in Latin American and Caribbean countries,” said Audia Barnett, IICA Representative in Canada.

However, Trinidad-born Chris Ramsaroop,  a labour organizer with Justicia for Migrant Workers, said it ((the study ) ” fails to examine the social implications that the program has on the families of injured, sick and unemployed migrant workers who endure abject poverty upon returning to their home country.

” From anecdotal evidence  migrant workers face economic insecurity as a result of being sick or injured in Canada while many other workers articulate the implications that precarious employment has on both working in Canada and returning home.”

” In plain words Canada downloads its responsibility unto the backs of impoverished families in the Caribbean and Mexico, he said.

Ramsaroop  told the Caribbean Camera that ” without equal access to social entitlements such as Employment Insurance, Healthcare and Pensions, migrant workers are perpetually employed under a indentured scheme of labour. ”

” To break this vicious cycle, migrant workers should be accorded permanent residency on arrival in Canada to level the playing field between migrant workers and their bosses,” Ramsaroop said

Canadian farm businesses contract foreign temporary workers from Latin American and Caribbean countries as a way of overcoming the labour challenges that face the country’s agri-food industry – a CAN$100 billion(One Canadian dollar =US$0.74 cents)  industry that contributes eight per cent to Canada’s gross domestic product, and employs 2.1 million Canadians.

Barbados, Jamaica, Mexico and Trinidad and Tobago are some of the countries participating in SAWP to support harvesting during peak periods, contribute to reducing the shortage of domestic labour, and counteract the country’s inability to recruit and retain labour due, in part, to a declining rural workforce.

In addition to detailing the benefits of remittances for SAWP workers and their families, the study underscores the importance of technology and knowledge transfer relating to modern agricultural production methods.

But St. Lucia-born Gabriel Allahdua, an activist with  Justicia for Migrant Workers who has been on the Seasonal Agricultural  Worker Program for several years, said ” the success  of the program should not be measured by remittances, number of people employed and technology transfer.

” There are stories behind those numbers ( in the study) and the study does not tell our story nor the sacrifices we make to put food on the table of both our families and Canadian families.”

Allahdua also noted that  no attention is paid in the    report to the experiences of workers under the program – “the stress of being away from family and loved ones.”

Canadian researchers Marie-Hélène Budworth, Andrew Rose and Sara Mann, together with the IICA Delegation in Canada, are the authors of the report on the SAWP programme.