BC agriculture needs its foreign workers Industry is working with regulators to ensure farms will continue to have access

Many workers from Mexico

and Caribbean Commonwealth countries come to Canada through the


Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP), administered by Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC), the foreign governments and agriculture sector organizations such as the Western Agricultural Labour Initiative (WALI), a subsidiary of the BC Agriculture Council. SAWP helps to fill a shortage of manual, seasonal workers in the agricultural sector. The foreign farm workers earn wages that help improve living standards of their families back home. The supply of Canadian

workers available to farms continues to shrink. Demographics in Canada show that there are fewer young people as a percentage of the total population, resulting in fewer people interested in manual labour and the low-skill seasonal positions available in the agriculture sector. In response, the agriculture sector has continued its centuries-long move to greater automation and labour productivity. But there still remains a

need for manual work on the farm, with horticulture being particularly labour-intensive. As a result, SAWP continues to grow in BC and the rest of Canada.

The long-term need for

and growth of SAWP is well- established. The program originated in Ontario in 1967 and includes Mexico and the Caribbean Commonwealth countries. Mexico SAWP continues to grow in Ontario and Quebec (6.2% and 6%, respectively, in 2017). BC is a relative newcomer to Mexico SAWP, with just 12 years’ experience.

High growth

BC’s growth rate during these early years has been higher (7.9% in 2017) than in the provinces that have a more established program. Caribbean Commonwealth

SAWP was introduced in BC more recently and has about one-fifth the participation of Mexico SAWP. Caribbean SAWP is growing much more rapidly (more than 30% in 2017) from this smaller base. In its first 12 years in BC,

VT: Vertical Twin-Auger by Reg Ens and Glen Lucas

SAWP has grown from less than 100 workers to more than 6,500 workers in 2017. Workers in SAWP have all of the protections of Canadian workers. They’re covered by WorkSafeBC, Employment

Standards and health regulations. SAWP workers have additional protections through an agreement negotiated by ESDC and the foreign government – an agreement reviewed every year. At the same time, the

program’s growth has resulted in a greater need for controls to ensure its compliance with Canadian employment regulations as well as worker safety. Greater numbers of workers in the program creates the need for systems that ensure program requirements are being met and that the program continues to be available.

Sensible approach

WALI seeks a sensible and efficient approach that supports program growth and the introduction of new program regulation without introducing undue hassles for employers that work against the program’s success. Some examples of new

developments in the past few months and years include:

● ESDC’s Integrity Services Branch has implemented a random inspection for farms and is considering “unannounced” inspections of housing, payroll and other requirements of the program.

● ESDC’s Integrity Services Branch also responds to specific, legitimate complaints with targeted inspections. In addition to government inspections, foreign governments inspect housing, health and safety conditions, and employers’ treatment of workers.

●WALI and the BC Agriculture Council labour committee have focused significant effort on worker housing (guidelines, inspection forms and regulation of inspectors). Recently, WALI has worked with the BC Ministry of Agriculture, BC Ministry of Labour and BC Ministry of Health to continue improving the housing inspection system.

● ESDC introduced an interim housing policy to address housing deficiencies noted in 2017. New systems to monitor housing are being implemented through the application process. Also, the BCAC/WALI housing standard will be the common standard, eliminating an inferior

standard that was being utilized by some farms with poor housing.

● ESDC is developing a national standard for SAWP housing.

● ESDC will be consulting with industry and other stakeholders in the coming year on the House of Commons Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development (HUMA) recommendations for the program, which were tabled last year. SAWP provided about

5,700 Mexican workers and 1,000 Caribbean Commonwealth workers to BC farms in 2017. Total employment on BC farms is about 24,400 employees, according to Statistics

Canada’s Labour Force Survey. SAWP workers represent only a fraction of total sector employment but without the program, the industry’s output would be drastically reduced. ESDC is launching a labour market study using an economic consultant to better understand the supply and demand for agricultural workers. We are confident that the workforce study will prove the need for and importance of SAWP. Reg Ens is general manager of the BC Agriculture Council and its subsidiary, the Western Agricultural Labour Initiative (WALI). Glen Lucas is general manager of the BC Fruit Growers Association and assistant general manager of WALI.

Low Farm Inventory

We receive calls daily from people looking for quality farmland throughout the Okanagan/ Shuswap regions. If you are considering selling your farm, suitable for DAIRY, BEEF OR HORTICULTURE, give me a call for a no-obligation evaluation of your property.


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Wishing all my clients past and present a very Happy New Year!

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Downtown Realty 4007 - 32nd Street, Vernon, BC V1T 5P2

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