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October 2012, Volume 18, Number 4
TFWP. The Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP) allows Canadian farm employers to hire workers from the Caribbean and Mexico for up to eight months a year. (www.hrsdc.gc.ca/eng/workplaceskills/foreign_workers/ei_tfw/sawp_tfw.shtml) The SAWP brings workers from the Caribbean and Mexico to Canada. The Globe and Mail in September 2012 highlighted the operation of the SAWP on 400 farms in British Columbia, noting that the United Food and Commercial Workers Union in 2011 alleged that the Mexican government and its Vancouver consulate blacklisted Mexican SAWP workers who engaged in union activities in Canada so that they could not return.
The UFCW is trying to organize some of the 4,000 SAWP workers in British Columbia by obtaining their signatures on authorization cards. In British Columbia, unions must submit signatures from 45 percent of the employees in order to request an election, a threshold reached by the UFCW at two British Columbia farms in summer 2012. However, the UFCW lost both elections.
The SAWP is operated in Ontario by Foreign Agricultural Resource Management Services (FARMS), a farmer-owned organization managed by Ken Forth (www.farmsontario.ca) created in 1984. Forth noted that Canadian farmers submit their applications for SAWP workers to FARMS, which reviews them before transmitting them to Service Canada, the government agency overseeing SAWP. SAWP workers receive a minimum wage, C$10.25 in 2012, set by the government and the same benefits as Canadian workers, including provincial health insurance.
The average SAWP worker is in Canada 22 weeks a year.
There is a separate Temporary Foreign Workers Program (TFWP) that allows employers to hire foreign farm workers and migrants to fill nonfarm jobs. In April 2012, the government announced that, instead of paying temporary foreign workers the prevailing wage, employers will henceforth be able to pay guest workers 15 percent less. Unions and NGOs denounced the move, saying it would allow employers of foreign workers who were hired to fill jobs in the sectors supplying tar-sand workers to reduce their labor costs.
Many provinces have enacted special legislation governing temporary workers. The Toronto-based Metcalf Foundation considers Manitoba's 2008 Worker Recruitment and Protection Act a model, since it prohibits recruiters from charging fees to guest workers.
Australia. The Seasonal Worker Program allows Australian farmers who try and fail to recruit local workers to employ workers from nine Pacific Islands, including East Timor, Papua New Guinea and Tonga.
Many farmers rely on backpackers, youth under 30 who can obtain 417 or 462 visas and live in Australia for up to 12 months and work for six months in agriculture. Many farmers want so-called backpacker visas extended to 24 months so that youthful backpackers that they train can be employed longer.
New Zealand. The New Zealand Herald on July 22, 2012 reported that foreign students allowed to work up to 20 hours a week are working far more and for less than the minimum wage of NZ$13.50. Interviews with workers employed on kiwi fruit farms near the Bay of Plenty found many Indian students enrolled in Auckland-area universities employed for 30 or 40 hours a week, often working for contractors who receive a flat price per hectare.
A report, Managed Migration: the health and safety and human rights implications for student migrant laborers in the horticultural sector, described flaws in two systems. First, the export-oriented education system offers certificate programs to foreign students knowing that some arrive mostly to obtain work permits. Second, export-oriented agriculture relies on contractors to assemble students into crews and allows them to work more hours than their work permits allow at less than the minimum wage.
The seasonal labor coordinator of Horticulture New Zealand, Jerf van Beek, acknowledged the problems surrounding foreign students working too many hours, and urged employers to use the Recognized Seasonal Employer scheme to hire seasonal workers from the Pacific Islands. However, enforcement officials say that it is hard to stop the complicity between farm employers, schools and contractors, all of whom benefit from the current system.
New Zealand exported NZ$2.2 billion worth of horticultural crops in 2011 from about 100,000 hectares or 250,000 acres. Some 50,000 workers are employed in eight major growing regions.