US embassy cable - 05TORONTO2804

Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program Benefits Both Canada and Mexico

Identifier: 05TORONTO2804
Wikileaks: View 05TORONTO2804 at
Origin: Consulate Toronto
Created: 2005-10-25 11:56:00
Classification: UNCLASSIFIED
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

E.O. 12958: N/A 
SUBJECT: Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program Benefits 
Both Canada and Mexico 
1. Summary: Seasonal Mexican Workers form the backbone of 
Ontario's multi-million dollar greenhouse farming sector. 
Mexico's bilateral agreement with Canada defines its sole 
official guest worker program.  The program has expanded 
over the past thirty years throughout Canada, but workers 
are concentrated in Ontario.  The Canadian government 
administers the program through regional offices and 
cooperates closely with the agricultural industry. 
Mexico's Ministry of Labor selects candidates to work in 
the program.  Most observers say the program is mutually 
beneficial and has kept Ontario's agricultural sector from 
employing illegal workers.  The program works well for both 
Canada and Mexico.  End summary. 
Working Well for 30 Years 
2. Mexican seasonal agricultural workers have come to 
Canada for the past thirty years under a bilateral 
agreement that both sides view as mutually beneficial, 
according to the Mexican Consul and the manager from Human 
Resources Development Canada (HRDC) who oversee the program 
in Ontario.  The epicenter of activity is Leamington, 
Ontario, the "Tomato Capital" of Canada.  Leamington is a 
tidy and prosperous town on Lake Erie, with an H.J.Heinz 
Company plant as its economic anchor.  Municipal Economic 
Development Officer, Anne M. Miskovsky, said the Mexican 
workers are crucial to Leamington's prosperity because they 
provide the field and greenhouse labor that Canadians will 
not.  She added that local residents accept the guest 
worker program, noting that there have been very few 
community relations problems. 
3. There are about 16,000 seasonal agricultural workers in 
Ontario, 85% of the total in Canada.  About 8,000 are from 
Mexico, the rest from the Caribbean.  The Mexican program, 
begun in 1974, was modeled on Canada's 1967 agreement with 
Jamaica and is Mexico's only official agricultural guest 
worker program.  About 1,600 Mexican workers came to 
Ontario in the program's first year, and participation has 
increased steadily over time. 
4. The seasonal agricultural program has enjoyed a very low 
rate of absence without leave (AWOL).  Mexican Consul Juan 
Jose Martinez de la Rosa estimated the absence rate at less 
than 1%, and said there were just 9 or 10 AWOL cases in 
2004.  He added that often the absentees end up back in 
Mexico with their families and try to apply again for the 
work program.  Henry Neufeld, the HRDC Ontario program 
manager, estimated an AWOL rate of less than 2%.  Neufeld 
and de la Rosa agreed that the Mexican workers have a lower 
AWOL rate than the Caribbean workers (NOTE: Jamaica's 
Senior Liaison Officer in Leamington, Steven A. Day, 
disputes this.  Day claims the Jamaican AWOL rate at "1%, 
maybe less."  END NOTE).  Martinez said the Mexicans' low 
AWOL rate was probably due to a lack of family ties in 
Canada, and disdain for Canada's cold climate.  Almost 99% 
of the Mexican workers are men, and most are married with 
families in Mexico.  They are selected for the program by 
Mexico's Ministry of Labor and come from all regions in 
Mexico.  According to Martinez, about 70% of the workers 
return every year, including some 30-year program veterans. 
How the Program Works 
5. Farmers hire guest workers for C$8 per hour for a 
minimum of 40 hours per week, with no maximum number of 
hours and no overtime pay.  They work six days per week and 
are given one day off, usually Sundays.  Contract duration 
is based on the farmers' needs for particular crops, from 
two months for tobacco to a maximum of eight months for 
greenhouse tomatoes.  Employers select the source country, 
with Mexico being the perennial favorite.  Wages are set 
annually by HRDC - this has been a major source of hard 
feelings with the industry, Neufeld added.  In 2004 HRDC 
arrived at a method, in consultation with the industry, to 
standardize wages based on the National Wage Rate Survey by 
Statistics Canada.  Industry has until 2007 to raise wages 
from the 2004 prevailing rate for foreign agricultural 
workers (C$7.70) to the prevailing rate for all seasonal 
agricultural workers (C$8.58).  Employers provide free 
housing for the workers. 
6. The Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program is 
administered by HRDC in Ontario with increasing industry 
consultation through the Foreign Agricultural Resource 
Management Services (FARMS), managed by Sue Williams in 
Toronto.  FARMS was created in 1987 to represent the 
employers using this program.  Its board of directors is 
made up of representatives for each crop.  FARMS publishes 
an employer information booklet each year to introduce new 
employers to the program.  FARMS helped form CanAg Travel, 
a private agency supported by fees from employers that 
organizes workers' logistics and charters full flights of 
migrant laborers directly from Mexico to Toronto.  Neufeld 
noted that FARMS has helped the industry run the program 
according to HRDC guidelines. 
7. RBC Insurance, a Royal Bank of Canada subsidiary, 
provides accident and health coverage for the workers. 
Premiums are co-paid by worker and employer.  Guest workers 
can also qualify for Canadian pension benefits.  Guest 
workers are strongly encouraged to use E. Babkirk Tax 
Preparation in Leamington, a firm cooperating with the 
program to ensure that workers maximize their Canadian 
income tax refund. 
Mexico Extends Its Outreach 
8. The Mexican Consulate General in Toronto opened a new 
consular agency in Leamingtom on August 29 with a staff of 
four.  The office does not issue passports or visas 
according to Officer-in-Charge Alberto Acosta, a 28-year 
veteran of the Mexican Foreign Service.  The agency is 
highly visible, however, and occupies a former bank at one 
of the town's few major intersections (NOTE: The Jamaican 
Liaison Office is across the street, on the third floor of 
a large commercial building.  END NOTE).  Some Canadians 
involved with the program had earlier complained that 
Mexico was not paying enough attention to its citizens in 
9.  Comment: The Mexican seasonal agricultural worker 
program works very well in Canada because the program is 
relatively small, geographically concentrated, and Canada 
does not share a porous border with Mexico.  The U.S. would 
be a different story.  A similar program in the U.S., with 
its vast agricultural footprint and scattered areas of 
specialization, would be exponentially more difficult to 
manage.  End Comment. 

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