Tallying the costs
Tree fruit growers in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley typically require about 3,300 seasonal workers annually. But working with foreign migrants who come to Canada under the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program is different than working with domestic migrants.
Participating farms must demonstrate an inability to find suitable local workers, for example, usually by showing the ads they’ve placed and correspondence with employment centers.
Guest-workers require housing that meets government standards and passes muster with either a municipal inspector, commercial inspection service, or third-party inspector. A visit from a municipal inspector in Kelowna costs $125.
Wages must be at least $10.25 an hour, plus 4 percent for vacation pay as of May 1, 2012.
Growers are responsible for covering workers’ round-trip airfare (approximately $1,500 a person between Mexico and British Columbia, although the fare for Caribbean workers is often less), providing rides to and from job sites if necessary, and medical insurance and access to medical care. There is a three-month waiting period prior to workers being eligible for B.C. medical coverage, but Great-West Life Assurance Company provides coverage in the interim at a rate of 98 cents per worker per day (30 cents a day cheaper).
Growers are allowed to recover the cost of visas ($150 per worker). Ontario growers can recover a portion of transportation costs but not housing costs; growers in British Columbia can’t recover transportation costs but can recover accommodation costs of up to $589 for the season for Mexican workers (down from $632 last year), with an additional charge of $6.50 per day if meals are provided.
Workers pay workers’ compensation, employment insurance, and government pension-plan premiums.