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Cablegate: Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program Benefits

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
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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