Horticultural industry trying to rally support for seasonal worker program

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The Ontario horticultural industry is trying to drum up support for a long-standing program that allows growers who face labour shortages to hire seasonal workers from Mexico and the Caribbean.

The Fairness for Growers Campaign is designed to provide information about the benefits of the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP).

The website also provides a place where the public can email Members of Parliament to express support for the program. As of June, about 1,400 Canadians had used the site for that purpose.

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The labour program was established in 1966 to respond to a severe shortage of domestic agricultural workers. It continues to fill that role 52 years later.

This year, more than 18,000 workers from Mexico and the Caribbean are expected to fill seasonal vacancies, for up to a maximum of eight months, at about 1,450 Ontario farms.

However, federal regulators are implementing new regulations, and some growers are concerned about the program’s future.

These changes could make it difficult or impossible for some local growers to get the workers they need and operate effectively, according to a news release sponsored by Ontario’s horticultural industry.

The proposed changes could also significantly reduce access to local fruits and vegetables, put Canadian jobs at risk and hurt thousands of seasonal workers who want these jobs to provide a better standard of living for the families, said the release.

Recent labour market research by the Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council cited the program as a key reason Ontario’s horticulture industry generates $5.4 billion in economic activity and about 34,280 jobs.

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