If you shop at local grocery or department stores, especially on a Thursday, Friday, or Saturday, you may have noticed a group of people being dropped off to buy food and other merchandise. These may be off-shore farm workers from other countries who have come to Canada to work in the fields and greenhouses of Chatham-Kent.
The off-shore workers in Chatham-Kent come from Thailand, Mexico and Jamaica, as well as other Caribbean countries.
There are a number of government programs allowing foreign workers into Canada. These have stipulations on the length of time the workers are in Canada and they also at some point must return to their home country for a number of months. Programs are administered by the federal government.
There are work agreements that cover all aspects of employment, just as we have work agreements or contracts with our employers. The agreement is reviewed with the worker who is requested to sign it prior to departing for Canada. The agreement is a four-party agreement among the worker, the employer, the foreign government, and the Government of Canada.
Foreign workers become eligible for these programs through each foreign government’s labour ministry. They establish their own recruitment process and obtain names of those individuals who wish to apply to be selected as a seasonal agricultural worker. Some Chatham-Kent companies use a third-party recruiting firm, while some who have had experience hire the workers directly.
Selected workers must be at least 18 and undergo a medical exam by a health services doctor approved by Canadian government health authorities. They must be capable of performing agricultural work and are also screened for any criminal record.
Seasonal housing is provided at no charge by the employer, which includes the cost of all utilities and annual maintenance. The housing facilities are inspected annually by the Municipality of Chatham-Kent Fire, Public Health, and Building services. The workers are covered by OHIP only after they are in Ontario for 90 days, but many employers cover their health insurance as soon as they arrive.
All seasonal agricultural workers are subject to regular payroll deductions for income tax, employment insurance, and contributions to the Canada Pension Plan.
Many people tell me these off-shore workers are taking jobs away from Chatham-Kent citizens. These workers who come to Canada to work do not displace Canadian workers, as our employers must attempt to initially hire domestic labour before they can apply to bring in help from outside of Canada. And that’s where the problem lies.
The truth is that many people in our community who need a job and are able to work will not work in our greenhouses or in our fields. I realize some of these jobs are tough, but it’s still a job. I’m saddened to say we live in a Canadian society where too many people feel they are entitled to earnings without having to work. Because of this, many of our agricultural employers are forced to bring in people who are willing to work.
Most of us have not lived in another country for any extended period of time. It must be a very difficult and lonely time for most of these people who come to Canada to work on Ontario farms. We need to always remember these workers are thousands of miles away from their home and from their families. They are working hard in our agricultural sector in order to send money back home to their families.
We need to make them feel welcome. Why not say hello, extend your hand in friendship, and be an ambassador right here in our Chatham-Kent community?
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Think about this – God provides the power we need to persevere.
Just some food for thought.
Remember that here in Chatham-Kent ‘We Grow for the World’. Check out our community’s agricultural website at: www.wegrowfortheworld.com
Kim Cooper has been involved in the agribusiness sector for over 40 years. He can be reached at: email@example.com
You can also follow him on Twitter at ‘theAGguy’