Guest workers, migrant workers and seasonal foreign in Canada

“You shall not abuse a needy and destitute laborer, whether a fellow countryman or a stranger in one of the communities of your land.”  Deuteronomy 24:14

“Build your home in such a way that a stranger may feel happy in your midst.”  Theodor Herzl, August 6, 1896

Introduction

Guest workers are persons who typically travel (legally or illegally) to a country with much more preferred job prospects than the one in which they currently reside. In part because of the negative connotations associated with these terms in North America (US and Canada), it has been argued that these workers are brought in as cheap labour to fill jobs that might readily be filled domestically.

Most guest workers, migrant workers and seasonal foreign  work in Canadian farms. They are migrant farm workers.

Who are the Migrant Farm Workers in Canada?

 Migrant farm workers work in Canada during the prime agricultural season to help plant, maintain, harvest or process produce. Also known as seasonal agricultural workers, migrant farm labourers, temporary workers, or guest workers, migrant farm workers may be here for up to eight months a year working up to seven days a week. Many return year after year, in some cases for over 20 years.

 As of 2003, Canada welcomed over 18,000 migrant farm workers, with 94% hosted by Ontario. Currently workers come from Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Grenada, Antigua, Dominica, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, Montserrat and Mexico.

 These workers generally work and live on one farm throughout their stay. The majority of the workers are male, and all of them have wives or dependent families in their home countries who do not travel here with them but who depend on the money they send home from Canada.

All migrant workers will have to fill out a questionnaire and undergo a physical examination and fever check by two doctors before being cleared for departure to Canada. Seasonal workers from Mexico are critical to portions of Manitoba’s agriculture industry.

Many migrant workers are part of the Canadian Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (CSAWP), a Canadian federal program that brings migrant workers from Mexico, Guatemala, and the Caribbean to work in the agricultural sector every summer.

The CSAWP began as a pilot project with Jamaica in 1966, when 264 Jamaican workers came to Ontario to harvest tobacco. The first Mexican workers arrived in Canada in 1974 after Mexico and Canada signed a memorandum of understanding.

The Mexican government plays a double role in this arrangement: it makes sure the program works smoothly, and it also functions as the representative of migrant agricultural Mexican workers in Canada.

For Caribbean workers, the program is run jointly with the governments of the participating Caribbean states, which recruit workers and appoint representatives in Canada to assist in the program’s operations. Workers come from Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, and the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (Grenada, Antigua, Dominica, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Monserrat).

For Guatemalan workers, the project was established in 2003 through an agreement with FERME (Foundation of Recruiting Enterprises of Foreign Agricultural Labor), which also lobbies the Canadian government for Canadian farm owners, under the supervision of the Department of Human Resources Development of Canada.

According to the Canadian United Farm and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW), 20,274 migrant workers came to Canada in 2005: 11,798 came from Mexico and 5,916 from Jamaica; the rest came from Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, and the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS). In 2004, fewer than three per cent of participants in this program were women. In 2009, the number of migrant workers in Canada is expected to be over 156,000.

The temporary workers visa allows them to work only on a specified farm and for a limited period of time. Mexicans and Jamaicans can stay for a maximum of eight months.

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