The section focuses primarily on the Mexico-Canada SAWP Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), since both countries have relatively few bilateral arrangements regarding labour migration. The Mexico-Canada SAWP MOU is the most significant such arrangement for either country. Canada also has SAWP MOUs with Caribbean countries, and four Canadian provinces have MOUs with the Philippines.
The Mexico-Canada SAWP has a high profile in Mexico and Canada. While the underpinning MOU is only available via freedom of information requests in Canada, the programme’s key provisions are widely accessible, including the standard annual employment contract. The MOU makes no explicit reference to internationally recognised human rights and labour standards, but outlines the principle of non discrimination for Mexican workers, stating that workers are to receive, “adequate accommodation and treatment equal to that received by Canadian workers performing the same type of agricultural work, in accordance with Canadian laws.” As such, the degree to which migrant workers’ human rights are protected depends primarily on Canada’s domestic legislative regime, which - in several important provinces - limits the rights and protections for agricultural workers, irrespective of nationality, with respect to trade unions and labour standards.
The Mexican government’s commitment to the “selection, recruitment and documentation” of workers - in response to Canadian requests for labour - is arguably the core fair recruitment mechanism within the agreement, eliminating the need for private sector recruiters. This has an effect in reducing the risk of exploitative fee charging and fraudulent recruitment, as explored in section 6. The Mexican government also has authority to directly involve itself in the implementation and monitoring of the programme in Canada. A representative of the Mexican government signs the employment contract alongside the worker, and the consulate must formally approve the accommodation (alongside Canadian inspectors) and the private insurance provided by the employer. Mexican consulates conduct site visits to farms and play a direct role in managing complaints they receive from workers. Worker transfers must be approved by the consulate. As explored in section 7, many workers consider that the consulates could do more to support them, and quality of provision appears highly dependent on the personnel at specific missions and the geographic location of the workers in Canada. Housing conditions, wages and working hours, among other issues, remain significant concerns. Nevertheless, most experts agree that the enhanced authorities the SAWP awards to origin state officials improves workers’ abilities to raise complaints, as compared to workers outside the SAWP.
The SAWP MOU provides for annual reviews by both Mexico and Canada “after consultation with employer groups in Canada.” Changes to the employment contract are agreed at this review. At present, workers are not represented in the meetings, and thus are not able to directly negotiate improvements to working conditions and the fair recruitment of migrant workers under the SAWP. Employers have resisted the inclusion of unions, on the basis that because workers cannot unionise in many provinces of Canada, Canadian unions are not the right actors to represent their interest. For its part the Mexican government says it represents workers’ interests in SAWP meetings and seeks contract amendments based on feedback from workers each season. However a former official told us that the government has to prioritise keeping demand for Mexican seasonal workers high, reducing its appetite for tough negotiations over the SAWP contract.
Recommendations to both the Mexican and Canadian governments:
- Allow worker representation and participation, including by Mexican and Canadian unions and civil society organizations at SAWP annual meetings, in line with ILO guidance on bilateral agreements.
Recommendations to the Mexican government:
- Make data available from the Report of Return and the STPS’ Information System of Labour Mobility (SIMOL) publicly, to allow academics and civil society organizations to undertake analysis of worker outcomes under the SAWP and the LMM on wages, remittances, and other relevant programme information, while respecting workers’ confidentiality.