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Amanda Dooney, Suncrest Orchards, is pictured with Jamaican TFW workers near Simcoe, Ontario. Photo by Glenn Lowson.
Amanda Dooney, Suncrest Orchards, is pictured with Jamaican TFW workers near Simcoe, Ontario. Photo by Glenn Lowson.
May 31, 2023

My name is Bill George. I’m a grape grower from Niagara and past chair of both Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association (OFVGA) and the Grape Growers of Ontario.


At the annual general meeting this past February, I agreed to take on the role of serving as the OFVGA’s labour section chair. Labour has always been a high priority file for this organization, and although the turmoil of the COVID years is now largely behind us, there is no shortage of activity to keep me, our committee members and OFVGA’s labour policy advisor Stefan Larrass busy.


Here are some of the key issues that we’re currently working on:


Making the case for public investment into the edible horticulture sector


Local employees are increasingly difficult to find, so many growers rely on international workers to make up a significant portion of their on-farm workforce. Growers must provide housing for their international workers in Canada, and both the government and the public have increasing expectations about the quantity and quality of amenities that these accommodations should provide.


These amenities come at costs to growers that can’t be recovered through the marketplace. These are costs that negatively impact the financial viability of farm businesses. That’s why we are developing a white paper that makes the case for public investment into the edible horticulture sector and highlights the importance of targeted government investments to support farm employers with these kinds of unrecoverable costs.


Exploring additional source countries for Ontario employers of international farm workers


Our committee is in the early stages of exploring options for expanding Ontario grower access to reliable, high-quality workers from countries in Central America and beyond. This includes documenting what has worked well in the past, such as the significant expansion in recent years of the ag stream of the federal Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) program for workers from Guatemala.


We’ve heard from growers that they value the certainty and the reliability of the processes in place for hiring offshore workers from well-established source countries such as Jamaica, Mexico and Guatemala. At this year’s annual meeting, growers provided clear direction to work with our industry partners to explore additional countries that could be sources of offshore workers with the same level of reliability, convenience and quality as the existing set of countries.  


It’s important that we continue to expand our labour pool to address the growing need for international workers. However, it’s also about managing risk to our sector to ensure growers have options in case access to any existing source countries is interrupted or diminished because of changes in worker availability or unilateral changes in a country’s policies towards Canada’s international worker programs.


Sharing knowledge with growers


We are aware of the great level of interest among growers, and in some cases their HR staff, to learn more about recent features of the ag stream TFW program, and how fellow growers are using those in their businesses.


We hosted a well-attended farm panel on this topic at the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Convention this past winter, and more sessions are planned. Work is also underway on the development of online resources that could be used by new and existing users of the TFW program to help them navigate various employer processes in the TFW program.

And we welcome your input! If you have ideas on topics or specific TFW program process that you feel could benefit from an educational session or an online resource, please contact Stefan Larrass at


Ongoing issues


And of course, our section also deals with ongoing labour issues as they come up. A recent one has been the release of a factfinding report by the Jamaican government into working conditions on Ontario fruit and vegetable farms.


The independent taskforce that conducted the investigation and wrote the report validated what our industry has been saying for years – although there is always room to do better, a large proportion of Jamaican farm workers have a positive view of the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP), and the vast majority of Ontario farm employers using the program are operating within its parameters.


Furthermore, the report categorically stated that there was no evidence to support activist claims that the program’s working conditions were akin to systemic slavery. It was these dramatic allegations that triggered the thorough investigation of SAWP by the Jamaican government last year.

Through our More than a Migrant Worker initiative, we are also making a concerted effort to promote the many positive aspects of our government-regulated international worker programs and that these workers have rights and protections that vulnerable undocumented workers without legal work permits do not have.

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Submitted by Bill George on 31 May 2023