Skip to navigation

Skip to main content

Rural Migration News

contact us

April 2014, Volume 20, Number 2

Canada, Spain, UK

Canada. Caribbean (since 1966) and Mexican (since 1974) workers have been arriving in Canada under the Seasonal Agricultural Workers' Program (SAWP) to fill seasonal farm jobs. The SAWP operates in nine provinces, but 90 percent of the SAWP workers are employed in Ontario.

Employers submit requests for foreign workers to private agricultural organizations, Foreign Agricultural Resource Management Services (FARMS) in Ontario and FERME in Quebec, and seek approval to fill jobs with SAWP workers from the government's Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC) before contacting SAWP in the Caribbean and Mexico. Over three-fourths of SAWP workers are requested by name and have worked in Canada before.

FARMS expects 16,000 SAWP workers in Ontario in 2014, with most arriving in April-May.

Farm employers advance the cost of airfare and visas, but deduct some travel and other costs from workers' wages. Both employers and workers sign contracts that spell out wages and working conditions and deductions. Wages must be the higher of the province's minimum wage, prevailing wage (determined by HRSDC), or the wage paid to Canadian workers performing similar work.

Most evaluations of the SAWP have been positive, praising the role of FARMS and FERME in operating the program, the importance of MOUs between Canada and sending-country governments to establish rules for employers and workers, and the involvement of sending-country governments in selecting migrants.

Critics, including the United Food and Commercial Workers Canada (, complain that SAWP workers are beholden to their employers, since SAWP workers who get a bad evaluation from one employer are rarely rehired. The UFCW operates 10 support centers for farm workers and has become an advocate for the SAWP workers. In March 2014, the UFCW charged that the federal government was shortchanging SAWP workers by requiring them to pay for EI parental, maternity, and compassionate care benefits (EI special benefits), but denying SAWP workers eligibility for these benefits.

The UFCW has tried to organize SAWP workers. The British Columbia Labor Relations Board in March 2014 agreed with the UFCW that the Mexican government blocked the return to Canada of SAWP workers who supported the UFCW at Sidhu & Sons Nursery in Abbotsford where the UFCW was organizing (

Spain. According to FAO, the agricultural labor force in Spain was 890,000 in 2013, while the total labor force was 23 million, making the farm work force less than four percent of the Spanish labor force.

FAO reported that Spain has 12.5 million hectares of arable land, including 4.7 million hectares in trees and vineyards and 3.7 million irrigated hectares. The value of farm commodities in 2011 was $34.6 billion, and was led by olives worth $6.2 billion, pig meat worth $5.5 billion, grapes worth $3.3 billion, and milk worth $2 billion. The most valuable vegetable was tomatoes worth $1.4 billion.

Food exports were $22 billion in 2011, including $3 billion worth of wine, $2.6 billion worth of olive oil and $2 billion worth of pork.

Spain exported fruits and vegetables worth E9.6 billion in 2012, mostly to Germany, France, UK and the Netherlands. The 6.8 million tons of fruit were worth E5.7 billion, including E860 million worth of stone fruits, E520 million worth of strawberries and E470 million worth of melons. The 4.2 million tons of vegetables were worth E3.9 million, including E925 million worth of tomatoes, E606 million worth of peppers and E590 worth of lettuce.

Valencian Community fruit and vegetable exports were E3.3 billion for 4.2 million tons, Andalusia E3.3 billion for three million tons and Murcia E1.8 billion for two million tons.

Almeria has hundreds of greenhouses that produce vegetables, usually with the help of irregular male African migrants who find jobs as "invernaderos" in day labor markets in El Ejido, Almeria and San Isidro/Nijar. Wages in Almeria are supposed to be E44 a day for invernaderos, but many workers report earning less, often E30 to E35 a day.

About 90 percent of Spanish strawberries are produced in the southwestern province of Huelva.

UK. The Gangmasters Licensing Authority, which licenses and enforces labor contracting laws, in October 2012 revoked the license of DJ Houghton Catching Services, a labor contractor that hired Lithuanian workers to catch chickens on farms to be transported to processing facilities. The GLA, noting that Lithuanian workers were sometimes expected to sleep on the bus during the day as they were driven from one farm to another to work at night, said that a driver was paid for working 133 hours in a week, and that the chicken catchers "were treated like slaves." In March 2014, Jackie and Darrell Houghton ended efforts to re-obtain their license.

Slender Contracting was closed in January 2014 after its owner was arrested during Operation Endeavour in October 2013. Owner Martyn Slender pleaded guilty to destroying and changing the pay slips of Eastern European farm workers, reporting fewer hours so that it appeared that they earned the minimum wage. He was given a suspended 12-week sentence.

British farmers continue to complain about the government's ending of the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme (SAWS) at the end of 2013 that admitted non-EU foreigners to fill seasonal farm jobs in the UK. Apple and hops farmer Alison Capper says that few local workers respond to ads for apple pickers, and those who do work only a few days before quitting.

Capper says: "It is completely normal for people from other countries to travel and work on farms in richer countries like the U.K. It is simply a fact of life? Our Polish workers are extremely hardworking, and anyone taken on from the local community cannot keep up and then they drop out."

Beginning May 2014, the British fine for employing illegal workers increases from œ10,000 to œ20,000, and the maximum fine for employers who do not pay the national minimum wage will rise from œ5,000 to œ20,000. There is a new ban on advertising jobs in other EU countries without simultaneously advertising them in Britain and in English. The GLA, created in 2004, will shift from the Department for Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) to the Home Office as part of the reforms.

The opposition Labor Party wants to further tighten laws on forced labor. Currently, British law requires an element of coercion or deception between employers and workers, such as unwarranted deductions from wages, poor accommodation provided by the employer, the employer not paying the full tax or national insurance contributions for the worker, to be deemed forced labor. Labor politicians say that "exploiting" migrant workers to reduce wages should become a criminal offense.

There are several organizations that certify conditions on farms in developing countries that export to industrial countries, including British-based Fairtrade. In January 2014, Fairtrade revised its Standard for Hired Labor to require payment of a "living wage," to require employers to allow workers to form unions and bargain collectively, and to give workers a voice in how the Fairtrade Premium that growers of certified produce receive is spent.

Australia. Connect Group is a labor provider that moves workers from Vanuatu, Kiribati and Timor Leste to Australia to fill farm jobs under the Pacific Seasonal Worker Pilot Scheme. Connect's Michael Fryszer in April 2014 complained that some of these legal guest workers are unable to get jobs in Victoria because farmers use contractors who hire unauthorized workers who are paid A$9 to A$11 an hour.

Subscribe via Email

Click here to subscribe to Rural Migration News via email.