Worker program deserves the welcome mat

Last updated on Oct 05, 23

Posted on Oct 05, 23

2 min read

I’m hoping the United Nations special rapporteur on modern slavery, who singled out Canada a few weeks ago for what he believes is a faulty temporary farm worker program, is paying attention to a new report that offers another perspective.

This week, The Grower, the country’s leading fruit and vegetable production publication, reported that regulatory activities here aimed at protecting foreign workers during their employ in Canada had received a gold star.

Here’s what happened.

Across the country, Employment and Social Development Canada carried out more than 2,100 inspections across all sectors of the economy, in April and May of this year.

The outcome? Almost 95 per cent were compliant with employment regulations and standards.

That’s not perfect, but it’s way beyond what you’d expect from a program that the UN used as a doormat.

A welcome mat would be more appropriate. While the UN was sharpening its tongue, the agri-food sector was singing temporary foreign workers’ praises.

“Simply put, if Canada’s horticulture sector didn’t have access to this essential migrant workforce, many popular but labour-intensive fresh, canned and frozen fruit and vegetable crops could no longer be grown here, and Canadians would have to rely on farmers in other countries to supply them with their fruits and vegetables,” according to a statement on the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association website.

And Bill George, chair of the association’s labour committee, told The Grower this: “We are proud of the fruit and vegetable sector’s strong track record of compliance and the ongoing investments growers and governments are continuing to make to ensure temporary foreign workers have a safe and positive experience working in Canada. Temporary and seasonal workers play a critical role in Ontario’s food supply system, and we support measures that encourage their safety, protection and well-being while they are working here.”

Even more noteworthy is that this is all surfacing right now during Ontario Agriculture Week, on the 25th anniversary of celebrating and recognizing Ontario’s farmers and the abundance of food they produce…often with the help of temporary foreign workers.

Going forward, the province will need every worker it can get. It’s being guided by something called the Grow Ontario Strategy, which includes increasing the production and consumption of food grown and prepared in Ontario by 30 per cent by 2032.

That means the province needs to invest in research. Research will help with automation, with plant and animal disease prevention and control, with farm outputs and with environmental sustainability.

But it also must invest in labour. That’s especially true if it’s going to support Ontario’s very productive and labour-intensive fruit and vegetable sector, the biggest such sector in the nation. The sector desperately needs the 40,000 temporary foreign workers who call Canada home every spring, summer and fall, and recognize their essential role.

And finally, the province needs to support the farm families who make it all possible. Use your global marketers to keep opening doors for their harvests. Back home, promote them to local buyers and local consumers, like your clever Dine Ontario program now underway to pair Ontario food and beverages in restaurants.

And whatever you do, don’t push them aside for developers.

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