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Listening to migrant workers: should Canada’s Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program be abolished?

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Abstract

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FORUM RESPONSE
Listening to migrant workers: should Canadas Seasonal
Agricultural Worker Program be abolished?
Anelyse M. Weiler
1
&Janet McLaughlin
2
#Springer Nature B.V. 2019
Introduction
Leigh Binfords essay cuts to the core of how Canadas migrant agricultural worker program
undermines rights, freedom, and dignity for racialized migrants from the Global South while
boosting a horticultural industry that continues to consolidate. By reviewing research on the
Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP), including his own, Binford underscores three
features of the SAWP that escalate expectations of worker productivity and growersdispro-
portionate power over workers. Specifically, he draws attention to SAWP workers
deportability, barriers faced by sending-country officials in defending the rights of fellow
nationals in Canada, and what he calls a dual frame of reference.Binford uses the dual frame
of reference to explain why SAWP workers generally put up with the wages and working
conditions on offer: they evaluate Canadian farm jobs against widespread poverty and grim
employment options in their countries of origin.
After establishing a trenchant analytical and empirical foundation, Binford drops something
of a bombshell by proposing to abolish the SAWP and related migrant worker programs.
Binford endorses abolition as a way to strengthen non-Canadian workersrights. This includes
workersaccess to social protections such as employment insurance, their ability to join a
union without fear of reprisal, and liberation from unfree employment relationships. However,
the essay does not elaborate on the implications of this proposal, the potential drawbacks for
workers, or what should be established in the wake of the SAWP. Well-intentioned calls to
dismantle the SAWP can unwittingly give fuel to xenophobic actors who regard migrants as a
threat to ourjobs. Some labor organizers also see migrant workers as a drag on the labor
movement because when workers are deportable and replaceable, it is difficult for unions to
https://doi.org/10.1007/s10624-019-09563-4
*Anelyse M. Weiler
anelyse.weiler@mail.utoronto.ca
Janet McLaughlin
jmclaughlin@wlu.ca
1
Sociology, University of Toronto, 725 Spadina Ave, Toronto, Ontario M5S 2J4, Canada
2
Research Associate, International Migration Research Centre, Wilfrid Laurier University, Brantford
and Waterloo, 73 George Street, Brantford, Ontario N3T 2Y3, Canada
Dialectical Anthropology (2019) 43:381388
Published online: 13 August 2019
Content courtesy of Springer Nature, terms of use apply. Rights reserved.
... to fill positions related to on-farm primary agriculture. This stream provides four options for employers wishing to hire TFWs for agricultural positions: [1] the SAWP, which enables employers to hire TFWs exclusively from Mexico and a number of Caribbean countries to work in seasonal agricultural positions; [2] the agricultural stream; [3] the high-wage stream; [4] and the low-wage stream (16). Each option has different rules concerning where the foreign workers can come from, the types of farms they can work on, and the type of work they can do (17). ...
... In the U.S., foreign agricultural workers are admitted through the foreign temporary/ seasonal agricultural workers program, known as the H-2A visa program, which emerged as a result of the reform of the H-2 visa program in 1986 under the Immigration Reform and Control Act (7,18). The H-2A program is an uncapped category that is managed and administered by three federal agencies (7) including temporary/seasonal positions (8)(9)24); [2] both countries have similar longstanding TFWPs, though administered differently (25), which attract hundreds of thousands of TFWs every year; [3] agriculture in both countries comprises the largest sector compared to all other sectors in the TFWP (24,26); [4] the TFWPs in both countries have received much attention and criticism, particularly towards violations to TFWs' collective bargaining rights and protection capacities, among other issues (7); [5] the TFWPs in both countries continued to expand progressively, even after many reforms over the years (7,13- ...
... temporary/ seasonal foreign agricultural workers (documented and non-documented); [2] provided information on the workers' food security status; [3] within North American contexts (Canada and the U.S.); [4] published between 1966 and 2020; and [5] published in English. (See Figure 3). ...
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Temporary foreign farm workers (TFWs) are among the most vulnerable and exploitable groups. Recent research shows alarming rates of food insecurity among them. This review explores research focusing on food security of TFWs in Canada and the United States (U.S.), summarizes findings, and identifies research gaps. Online databases, including MEDLINE, Web of Science, Scopus, Google Scholar, and government and non-government websites, and
... to fill positions related to on-farm primary agriculture. This stream provides four options for employers wishing to hire TFWs for agricultural positions: [1] the SAWP, which enables employers to hire TFWs exclusively from Mexico and a number of Caribbean countries to work in seasonal agricultural positions; [2] the agricultural stream; [3] the high-wage stream; [4] and the low-wage stream (16). Each option has different rules concerning where the foreign workers can come from, the types of farms they can work on, and the type of work they can do (17). ...
... Peer-reviewed and non-peer-reviewed literature were searched through electronic databases, grey literature, reference lists, and hand-searching of key journals (54), using the following steps: [1] pre-search; [2] identify and select relevant databases and other literature sources; [3] develop a search strategy for each database using key terms; and [4] document the search process and outcomes. ...
... temporary/ seasonal foreign agricultural workers (documented and non-documented); [2] provided information on the workers' food security status; [3] within North American contexts (Canada and the U.S.); [4] published between 1966 and 2020; and [5] published in English. (See Figure 3). ...
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Temporary foreign farm workers (TFWs) are among the most vulnerable and exploitable groups. Recent research shows alarming rates of food insecurity among them. This review explores research focussing on food security of TFWs in Canada and the United States (U.S.), summarizes findings, and identifies research gaps. Online databases, including MEDLINE, Web of Science, Scopus, Google Scholar, and government and non-government websites, and websites of migrant workers-supporting organizations were searched for peer reviewed and non-peer reviewed papers and reports published between 1966-2020 regarding food security of TFWs. Articles reviewed were analyzed to determine publication type, country, year, target population, and main findings. Content analysis was performed to identify major themes. Of 291 sources identified, 11 met inclusion criteria. Most article (n=10) were based on studies conducted in the U.S. The prevalence of food insecurity among TFWs ranged between 28% and 87%. From the content analysis, we formulated 9 themes, representing a diversity of perspectives, including access to resources, income, housing and related facilities, food access, dietary pattern and healthy food choices, and migrant's legal status. Instruments reported for the measurement of food security include USDA Household Food Security Survey Module (HFSSM) (8, 72.7%), modified version of the USDA HFSSM (1, 9%), hunger measure (1, 9%), modified CDC's NHANES (1, 9%), and 24-hourr recall, diet history and/or food frequency questionnaire (3, 27.3%). Factors impacting food security of TFWs working under the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Programs (SAWPs) in North America is understudied. There is a need to advance research looking particularly at policies, regulatory, and administrative aspects of the SAWPs to improve food security of this cohort. There is also a need for qualitative studies that explore lived experiences and perspectives of TFWs and key informants. Longitudinal studies may be useful to examine various factors, including policy-related, contributing to food insecurity of TFWs over time.
... A study based on a coroner's report of 9 agricultural workers' deaths in Ontario between March 2020 and June 2021 identified four domains of risk accounting for the disproportionate number of casualties: (1) recruitment and travel risks; (2) missed steps and substandard conditions of healthcare monitoring, quarantine, and isolation; (3) barriers to accessing healthcare; and (4) missing information (Caxaj et al., 2022). Their dependency on employers for work authorization, residency status, and housing make it difficult for agricultural workers to report health issues and crowded living conditions (Caxaj et al., 2022;Weiler & McLaughlin, 2019). Due to these vulnerabilities, this group has suffered disproportionately throughout the pandemic. ...
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... Though access to information finds mention in several scholarly works on SAWP, few, if any, have dedicated study to knowledge-sharing as the main question. Yet, migrant workers have been speaking to these issues for a number of years (Paz Ramirez, 2013;Basok et al., 2014;McLaughlin and Weiler, 2019), and have highlighted the importance of clear and comprehensive information to their safety and wellbeing (United Food and Commercial Workers Canada and Agricultural Worker Alliance, 2020). ...
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