July 2012, Volume 18, Number 3
Canada accepts more immigrants on a per capita basis than the US, 280,000 in 2010, equivalent to 0.85 percent of Canada's population. If the US had the same immigration rate, it would be accepting 2.6 million rather than 1.1 million immigrants a year. Canada traditionally accepted immigrants rather than guest workers but, at the behest of employers, the government expanded guest worker admissions in the past decade to over 200,000 admissions a year.
There are two major programs that allow Canadian farm employers to hire guest workers. The SAWP has since 1966 admitted Caribbean workers to fill seasonal farm jobs, and since 1974 Mexican workers. (www.hrsdc.gc.ca/eng/workplaceskills/foreign_workers/sawp.shtml) The Pilot Project for Occupations Requiring Lower Levels of Formal Training (NOC C&D Pilot) has admitted guest workers for farm and other low-skill work since 2002, and the Agricultural Stream of the NOC C&D Pilot came into effect in 2011 (www.hrsdc.gc.ca/eng/workplaceskills/foreign_workers/Agricultural/directives.shtml). Between 2002 and 2008, the number of guest workers admitted under the NOC C&D Pilot rose from 101,300 to 251,200; most fill nonfarm jobs.
There are significant differences between the SAWP and the NOC C&D Pilot, including the maximum guest worker length of stay, up to eight months for SAWP (most SAWP workers are in Canada 20 to 22 weeks) compared to up to two years for NOC C&D Pilot (with a two-year renewal possible). Foreigners admitted under the SAWP can return to Canada indefinitely, while foreigners admitted under the NOC C&D Pilot can have a maximum of two four-year contracts. The SAWP is governed by bilateral MOUs, and recruitment is overseen by government agencies in both countries, while the NOC C&D Pilot is a unilateral program that allows Canadian employers to recruit guest workers anywhere (most employers use private recruiters abroad).
The SAWP and the Agricultural Stream of the NOC C&D Pilot is limited to FVH crops and tobacco and sod, while the NOC C&D Pilot is open to all farm employers, including livestock. Finally, SAWP allows farm employers who pay for worker transportation to Canada to deduct from worker wages half of the airfare to get to Canada (typically C$630) and requires employers to offer housing to workers at no charge. The Agricultural Stream of the NOC C&D Pilot, on the other hand, allows employers to require guest workers to cover their transport costs and to charge guest workers up to C$30 a week for housing.
SAWP is the major program providing foreign workers to agriculture. Entries of SAWP workers rose from about 16,000 in 2000 to a peak 24,000 in 2008 before falling slightly in 2009. Admissions under the NOC C&D Pilot to fill jobs in agriculture and food processing were less than 2,500 in 2005, rose to a peak 10,700 in 2008, and fell to about 9,750 in 2010, including 6,000 farm workers and 1,100 food processing workers. Many of the workers admitted under the NOC C&D Pilot to fill farm jobs are from Guatemala, the Philippines and Thailand.
Most farmers and workers are satisfied with the SAWP, but the United Food and Commercial Workers union calls it "Canada's dirty little secret." The Toronto Star on July 2, 2012 reviewed the treatment of injured SAWP workers under the Ontario Workplace Safety and Insurance Board. An injured Jamaican SAWP worker from received benefits while recuperating in Jamaica, but had these benefits suspended when the WSIB deemed him capable of lighter work near the place where he had been employed, even though he was in Jamaica and did not have an offer of a light-duty job in Canada.
Ken Forth, who has 25 acres of broccoli near Hamilton and directs the 1,500 member Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers' Association, says that most farmers pay about 2.7 percent of wages to WSIB for the cost of workers compensation. He emphasizes that SAWP workers are covered for injuries on and off the job while in Canada, while Canadian workers are covered only at work by the WSIB.
Farm employers must obtain a "labor market opinion" from a Human Resources and Skills Development Canada Service Canada office agreeing that Canadians are not available to fill the jobs that they want to fill with foreign workers. Some farmers complain that generous employment insurance (EI) benefits give jobless Canadians few incentives to fill seasonal farm jobs despite high wages. Media reports described farmers in Saskatchewan offering C$25 an hour for unskilled farm labor and turning to guest workers when few Canadians applied.
The government is trying to persuade unemployed Canadians to apply for farm jobs. Finance Minister Jim Flaherty in May 2012 said: "There is no bad job; the only bad job is not having a job." Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island have persistently high unemployment rates and employer complaints of labor shortages. Some observers say that workers employed in seasonal industries such as fishing and tourism prefer EI benefits in the off season to moving to areas of Canada with jobs. Revisions to the EI program in 2012 require unemployed Canadians will have to apply for available jobs to continue to qualify for employment insurance.
Australia. Australia made its Pacific Seasonal Worker Pilot Scheme permanent July 1, 2012. After its August 2008 launch, farmers hired relatively few Pacific workers, less than 1,000 in 2011-12. Most employers seeking seasonal workers hire immigrants and working holidaymakers, foreign youth with work-and-tourism visas.
Up to 12,000 Pacific Island workers can be admitted under the Seasonal Worker Program over four years, with employers deciding who will be admitted. SWP workers can stay in Australia four to six months without their family members. Under the pilot, about three-fourths of the farm workers admitted were from Tonga.
New Zealand launched the Recognized Seasonal Employer in 2007, which is attracting more farm workers from Pacific Islands, including over 8,000 in 2008. Employers try and fail to recruit New Zealand workers, and promise to pay half of the transportation costs of guest workers, who come to New Zealand without their families and can remain in New Zealand for up to seven months (nine months for workers from Kirbati and Tuvalu). Pacific Island governments regulate the recruiters who screen their citizens wishing to work in New Zealand under the RSE and provide pre-departure orientation.