Farmers Forum staff
Noisy activists with a strategy to unionize foreign farm workers just had the rug pulled out from underneath them.
After complaining of horrific farming conditions in Ontario that were akin to systemic slavery, the country of Jamaica was so alarmed it launched an investigation into Canadian treatment of Jamaicans and interviewed many Jamaicans, some of whom have been voluntarily travelling to Canada for years to work on an Ontario farm.
The Jamaican fact-finding report into the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP) found that a large proportion of Jamaican farm workers have a positive view of SAWP, and the vast majority of Ontario farm employers using the program are operating within its parameters.
The Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association (OFVGA) welcomed the report. Despite the incessant accusations about Ontario farms from activist groups, the report categorically states that no evidence was found to support activist claims that the program’s working conditions were akin to systemic slavery, said the fruit and vegetable growers in a public statement. “It was these dramatic allegations that triggered the thorough independent investigation of SAWP by a Jamaican government taskforce last year.”
“We recognize there is always more that can be done to ensure all workers have the opportunity for a positive and safe working experience while they help our farms grow fruits and vegetables for the Canadian public,” says Bill George, grape grower and chair of the OFVGA’s labour committee. “However, the report clearly shows that this can be done with specific targeted measures rather than assigning hateful and broad labels to all the hardworking farmers and their employees in the program.”
SAWP first started in 1966 with 264 Jamaican workers who came to Ontario to help with apple harvest. Today, the heavily regulated, government-approved program is open to workers from Mexico, Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago, Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean Islands.
The report also shows that SAWP is a program highly valued by both Jamaicans and Canadians. For the Jamaican workers, their jobs in Canada let them support their families with health care and education, establish farms and businesses and create jobs in their communities back home.
Their Canadian employers rely on the skills and expertise of their Jamaican workforce in the face of a large and growing shortage of labour in the agricultural sector. Without these workers, many labour-intensive fruit and vegetable crops that Canadians love could no longer be grown here in Ontario.