Stephen Murdoch, Enterprise Canada
Farmers across Ontario are preparing for their second full growing season in the midst of an ongoing pandemic that has made our crucial work even more complicated.
The job of putting top-quality food on tables has always been difficult and risky. Whether a farmer has a successful season or not is dependent on numerous variables, weather, fluctuating markets, availability of labour and other conditions that are beyond the control of individual farmers.
COVID-19 has only added to these challenges, particularly for hundreds of Ontario farmers who for over fifty years have come to depend on temporary seasonal labour from overseas because of a chronic shortage of domestic agricultural workers.
Adding to the challenges, a small group of vocal opponents of the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP) have used the pandemic to magnify mistruths they have been spreading about the program for years. Anti-farming activists and trade union leaders with the United Food and Commercial Workers continue to falsely assert that seasonal workers from overseas have not been extended the same labour rights as Canadians during the pandemic.
The truth is international labourers hired to work at Ontario farms through SAWP are entitled to the same benefits and protections as domestic workers and are protected by Ontario’s Employment Standards Act, the Agricultural Employees Protection Act and the Occupational Health and Safety Act. SAWP workers qualify for the same benefits as Canadian-born employees, including WSIB, OHIP, certain Employment Insurance benefits, the provincial minimum wage and, like every other worker in Ontario during the pandemic, job protection if they have to take an unpaid leave because of COVID-19.