Chatham-Kent (C-K) is my hometown and is also an important agricultural centre. C-K farmers are in need of seasonal workers because of the nature of their work. The local market is usually not capable of providing farmers with hardworking seasonal workers they need. Many of the farmers, consequently, hire foreign workers, mainly from Mexico and Caribbean countries such as Jamaica to fill in the gap. These farm workers are usually hired under a federal program called SAWP or Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program. I will explain this program in more detail and then review some aspects of it.
What is SAWP?
The Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP) matches workers from Mexico and the Caribbean countries with Canadian farmers who need temporary support during planting and harvesting seasons, when qualified Canadians or permanent residents are not available.
The governments of Mexico and the Caribbean countries recruit and select candidates. To qualify, men and women must have experience in farming and:
- be at least 18 years old;
- be nationals of one of the participating countries;
- satisfy the immigration laws of Canada and the worker’s home country; and
- accept and sign an employment contract.
The workers that are recruited under this program need to leave Canada when their contract is over. Click here for more information about this program.
I would like to bring your attention to a few issues related to this program. This program was introduced in the early 1970’s. It is apparently one of the most successful programs in terms of hiring temporary offshore workers. While women have recently been hired the workers are predominantly male and married. A high percentage of these workers return to Canada each year. There are some of them who have returned each year to Canada for over 30 years. The duration of their stay in Canada is between 8 weeks and 8 months before repatriation.
Communication Problems and Superstitious
The workers under SAWP live on the farms. Many of them know very little English or no English at all. These two factors isolate them from the main population of Chatham-Kent to a significant extent. One other reason for isolation is the fact many of these workers do not hold a valid driver’s license. Their commute into our cities and towns is usually limited to the use of bicycles or weekly public transportation arranged by some community groups or farmers.
Their isolation has detached them from the people of Chatham-Kent (especially the city of Chatham). People generally ignore these workers and avoid approaching them as members of our community. Some people are even afraid of them, even though these are law abiding citizens.
I personally believe we need to change our behaviour. These are a group of hardworking people who are away from their wives and children for several weeks or months at a time. This reason alone is enough for them to suffer emotionally. Our role as citizens of Chatham-Kent is to help them feel at home here. We need to do our best to lessen their suffering.
I hope this article reminds all of us that we, as Canadians, are the best group of people when it comes to how we treat those who look different than us. We need to maintain our popularity by adhering to our values and changing our behaviour. I would suggest arranging some local activities and inviting these workers to join us. We need to help them understand our language and culture better. In return, we need to learn their culture and what they are going through when they are away from their families and home country. We need to turn Chatham-Kent into their second home and show them they belong to the family of Chatham-Kent at least for a few weeks every year.
- I brought up this subject through a speech in one our Toastmasters club meetings. My Toastmasters fellows helped me have a better understanding of the subject. I used their questions and comments to complete this article. I, therefore, would like to thank them all for being such knowledgeable and helpful friends.
- Kim Cooper who has been working in the agribusiness sector for over 35 years has generously edited the text for me. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks Kim for polishing the text.
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