|Wikileaks:||View 05TORONTO2804 at Wikileaks.org|
|Tags:||EAGR ELAB ETRD PGOV PHUM CA MX Agriculture|
|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.
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 TORONTO 002804 SIPDIS E.O. 12958: N/A TAGS: EAGR, ELAB, ETRD, PGOV, PHUM, CA, MX, Agriculture 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 Leamington. 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. SCHIMMEL
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