Farmers pushing Ottawa to allow more foreign seasonal workers
A farm tractor is silhouetted against a setting sun near Mossbank, Saskatchewan, Saturday May 11, 2002. (THE CANADIAN PRESS / Adrian Wyld)
Agriculture groups want the federal government to allow more producers to hire foreign seasonal employees to work on farms.
"There are some jobs that we can't get Canadians to do," Norm Hall, president of the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan, said Wednesday.
"Having enough employees to get the job done in a timely matter makes more money for agriculture."
The federal Seasonal Agriculture Worker Program already allows about 20,000 temporary foreign workers to be hired in Canada for up to eight months each year in specific industries such as the tobacco, livestock, fruit and vegetable sectors.
The program is open to workers from Mexico and some Caribbean countries.
Hall's group and other farm organizations such as the Union des Producteurs Agricoles want Ottawa to expand the program to include other commodities such as grain, oilseeds and maple syrup.
Hall said there is a growing shortage of farm hands as older producers retire and younger people leave rural areas or seek other jobs. But farmers who remain on the land are hoping to expand production.
"There are just not enough farm boys left," Hall said. "It would mean getting the crop in on time, getting it sprayed in time and then getting it harvested on time."
Foreign workers hired under the program are limited to basic jobs such as running farm machinery, looking after animals, planting and harvesting.
They can come back to Canada year after year until they reach the program's cumulative limit of 48 months.
Delegates attending the Canadian Federation of Agriculture annual general meeting in Ottawa on Wednesday overwhelmingly passed a resolution calling for expansion of the seasonal program.
They also passed resolutions for the federal government to lift the 48-month limit, to make it easier for foreign seasonal workers to change employers and to simplify the application process.
Producers also want to be able to use more foreign seasonal workers in their processing operations.
Hall said the Canadian Federation of Agriculture is to present the resolutions to the Liberal government later this year.
"We are hoping that the minister and the bureaucracy will look on this favourably and enact as much of it as possible," said Hall, who is also a member of the federation's board of directors.
Federal Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay was asked Tuesday about the push by the groups for Ottawa to expand the seasonal worker program.
"I fully understand the value of the temporary foreign workers," he said.
Officials from Employment and Social Development Canada were not immediately available for comment Wednesday.
Justicia for Migrant Workers, a group that advocates on behalf of foreign workers, said it opposes the expansion of the program.
Chris Ramsaroop, an organizer for the group, said these workers can be exploited and are at the total mercy of their employers.
"With an expanding agricultural industry there must be a correlating focus of better working and living conditions for farm workers," Ramsaroop said.
"We demand that migrant farm workers must have access to permanent residency and should be employed with dignity and respect and not treated as disposable labour."