50th Anniversary of Mexican Seasonal Agricultural Workers in Canada

Today marks a somber milestone: the 50th anniversary of the Mexican Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP) in Canada. Since its inception on June 17, 1974, thousands of Mexican workers have traveled to Canada each year to toil in fields and greenhouses, feeding families and contributing to the Canadian economy.

Leonel Nava, a veteran farm worker from Mexico and a member of the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, has been part of this program for 13 years. Nava stresses, “This year’s commemoration of the 50 years of the SAWP, and I repeat it is a commemoration, not a celebration because you cannot celebrate 50 years of injustice and exploitation.”

The Reality of Migrant Farm Work in Canada

Migrant agricultural workers play a crucial role in putting food on Canadian tables, yet they face intense exploitation. These include employer-restricted permits that limit their job mobility and makes it impossible to assert their rights, exclusion from basic labor rights and protections such as maximum hours of work and overtime pay, and substandard living conditions in employer-controlled housing. Often, they are forced to work in unsafe environments, have to deal with hazardous pesticides and heavy machinery without proper training. As a result of these unfair laws, migrant agricultural workers face injuries, abuse, and sometimes even death, with little to no recourse for justice.

Gabriel Camacho, a Mexican farm worker from Tlaxcala—the first Mexican state to join the SAWP—shares his experience: “We have endured a lot of exploitation from the bosses because they have always seen us as machines that don’t get tired, like robots that have no right to protest, they do not care about our feelings and pain of being away from the family.”

A Growing Industry, A Growing Injustice

Despite their essential role, the contributions of migrant workers are often overlooked. In 2022 alone, Canada’s agri-food industry generated a staggering $143.8 billion, making up about 7% of the country’s GDP. 

Yet, migrant workers who are fundamental to this success are systematically excluded from permanent residency programs, including the Agri-Food Immigration Pilot, which leaves them without the basic rights enjoyed by anyone else.

Permanent Resident Status on Arrival

Luisa Ortiz-Garza, a staff organizer with the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change adds, “For 50 years Mexican farm workers have sacrificed their lives, their bodies, and their families to grow the Canadian economy but have been excluded from rights and protections that are only accessible through permanent resident status. Today, Mexican farm workers want to remind Canadians that they are humans who deserve equality, fairness and dignity.”

Seasonal agricultural workers return to Canada year after year, often for up to eight months at a time. In 2023 alone, 24,772 workers arrived from Mexico under the SAWP. While they spend a significant portion of their lives in Canada, these workers are still deprived of the rights and security that come with permanent resident status.

The anniversary of Mexico’s entry into the SAWP is not just a moment to reflect on the past, but a critical opportunity to address the systemic issues that have plagued the program for decades. It is a call to action for Canada to prioritize the rights and dignity of all migrant workers. 

Join us to call on the federal government to ensure permanent resident status for all.