The Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP) is an integral part of rural economic development in both Canada and Mexico. SAWP fills a need for labour within the agricultural sector that otherwise cannot be met using only domestic workers, so that Canada’s agricultural communities may continue producing food despite a population that is aging and increasingly uninterested in farming. In Mexico, the program results in large remittances to otherwise impoverished rural communities, allowing the families of SAWP workers to invest in their own properties, hire additional help, and even pay for their children’s post-secondary education.

SAWP has been criticized, however, for creating a tiered employment system, as SAWP workers are not granted permanent resident status and are not allowed to change employers during their stay, making them vulnerable to mistreatment. SAWP workers have indicated a lack of access to healthcare and proper food, as well as a strained relationship with host communities and employers. If Canada is to continue to benefit from SAWP, these issues will need to be addressed to ensure a better experience for migrant workers.

This project will seek to understand the relationship between housing arrangements and the SAWP worker’s experience. The program requires employers to provide free housing to workers. While some employers house workers off-farm, in most cases it is done using existing or temporary buildings on the farm itself. This project posits that on-farm housing arrangements contribute to many of the issues reported by SAWP workers, as they allow employers to extend their influence over non-working hours, make workers dependent on employers for transportation to and from services, and inhibit integration into the surrounding community, preventing locals from becoming familiar with workers.

For this thesis-level research project, MSc candidate Louis Helps will interview Mexican SAWP workers about their experiences in the program as well as the housing that they were provided during their stay. Through an analysis of the information obtained in these interviews, Lou will determine whether off-farm housing arrangements allow SAWP workers better access to goods and services and lead to improved relationships with employers and host communities. The findings of this research will be relevant to the agricultural sector, workers’ rights activists, and governments at the local, provincial, and federal levels.

Knowledge mobilization for this project will take the form of a thesis-length research paper as well as a series of conference presentations in 2020.

Check back for further updates on this research initiative as it develops or contact Lou Helps at whelps@uoguelph.ca.

Research Team

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Louis Helps
Louis Helps

Master of Science in Rural Planning and Development Student