Dominion-provincial Farm Labour Conference

Review Of 1944 Program-problems Of Post-war Period

Subject: Industries
Topic: Agriculture

Source: Labour Gazette
Date: January 1945 [ 1940s ]
Pages: 19-22

A CONFERENCE of Provincial Directors of the Dominion-Provincial Farm Labour Program and of the Regional Agricultural Employment Advisers of National Selective Service was held at Ottawa, December 4-8, 19441 It was called by the Federal Department of Labour for the purpose of reviewing farm labour activities during the year, considering the program for 1945, discussing probable changes in the transition and post-war periods and the kind of organization necessary to meet them. (The conference was held the same week as the Dominion-Provincial Conference on Agricultural Production so that farm labour officials could attend some of its sessions.)

Mr. MacNamara welcomed the delegates and commended the work which had been accomplished through Dominion-Provincial co-operation. He declared that the operation of the Farm Labour Agreements provided a practical demonstration of getting things done when constitutional difficulties might have impeded progress.

Provincial Reports

Reports of those attending the conference showed that the farm labour situation had been difficult but that by the full utilization of labour available, crops had been harvested.

The harvesting of the Maritime potato and apple crops was made possible by the use of soldiers on farm duty. One hundred and eighty-five of these were employed on Prince Edward Island, 740 in Nova Scotia and a large number in New Brunswick. Two hundred and twenty-five airmen were employed on the same basis in Nova Scotia. In the last named province an Agricultural Committee considered all applications for farm leaves, to ensure that men would be effectively employed.

Placements of farm workers were made in Quebec with the help of the Quebec Farm Labour Supply Bureau operated under the Dominion-Provincial Farm Labour Agreements and 949 local Agricultural Committees. These Committees made approximately 15,000 placements and the two Farm Labour Bureau Offices 3,500. The Province had the services of 2,500 men on farm leave. One thousand one hundred and fifty-nine harvesters were sent to the Prairie Provinces and 1,036 men, women and students to Maine for potato picking.

The Dominion-Provincial organization in Ontario known as the Ontario Farm Service Force placed about 10,000 students on farms and in Farm Service Force Camps during the summer, Farm Commando Groups in 101 centres organized from 30 to 40 thousand people for temporary help in agriculture. Through the Agricultural Representatives and Local Selective Service Offices, 801 Prairie farm workers were allocated to farmers on a county quota basis for haying and early harvesting. In August and September, 4,166 workers, who could be spared from Ontario farms, were recruited to help with Prairie harvesting. Eight hundred and fifty-six soldiers were detailed on farm duty for work in the tobacco growing districts. Help was received from 2,209 soldiers, 445 airmen and 220 sailors on farm leave. A prisoner-of-war camp was established at Chatham for 300 men for sugar beet work. Japanese and conscientious objectors were also used.

The Prairie Provinces recruited a number of farm workers for grain handling at the head of the lakes in the spring and over 800 to help on Ontario farms from June to August. The most important farm labour problem in the Prairies was to obtain help to take off the harvest.

In Manitoba over 600 Indians from the Northern Reserve were recruited for harvesting. In addition 545 soldiers on farm duty, 254 sailors and 1,029 Eastern harvesters from Quebec and Ontario, as well as additional help from soldiers and airmen on farm leave augmented the supply of harvest help. Some 3,780 harvesters were sent to Saskatchewan. Eight hundred men were detailed to farm duty and a substantial number of Army, Navy, and Air Force personnel assisted with harvesting. Two hostels were established in Saskatchewan to accommodate the 200 prisoners-of-war who helped with stocking and threshing. As outside harvest help, Alberta received 1,584 harvesters directly from Ontario and Quebec and another 700 Eastern men who moved on from Manitoba and Saskatchewan early in October. Three hundred and twenty-two soldiers on farm duty and 312 sailors as well as other Army and Air Force men on leave helped with the harvest. Schools were closed from July 15 to October 2 to make students available for harvesting and food processing. One thousand one hundred prisoners of war were employed in agriculture, of whom 340 were on individual farms at Brooks and Strathmore while the remainder were employed on a day to day basis from the prison camp and hostels at Lethbridge.

British Columbia is giving considerable attention to the placement of workers from towns and cities as temporary help to farmers. On the whole more reliance is being placed on providing transportation rather than establishing hostels for these :workers. About half of the 310 girls who came from Saskatchewan and Alberta for fruit picking were placed in hostels which were established. In co-operation with Selective Service 27,000 farm placements involving 19,000 individuals were made during the year. A number of Japanese and about 2,000 Doukhobors were employed in fruit picking in the Okanagan Valley.

Seasonal Labour Supply

Representatives of both railways attended a session of the conference and considerable attention was given to methods for more effectively handling large-scale movements of farm workers. It was requested that arrangements be made whereby all provinces might receive a special rate for intra-provincial transportation of farm workers.

Officials of the Department of National Defence stated that the army had made no change in its policy with regard to the granting of different types of farm leave. However, there was a strong possibility that a reduced number of men would be available far farm work in 1945 as a large number of those available in 1944 would be in training or overseas. It was .pointed out to the conference that in future any soldiers detailed for labour duty including work on farms could only receive their regular pay and allowances.

United States Farm Labour Program

A brief review of the United States Farm Labour Program was given by representatives of the War Food Administration, U.S.D.A. who attended one of the sessions. It was estimated that eight and one-half million people were required during the winter to operate the 6,000,000 farms in United States and twelve and one-half million during the summer months. Three-quarters of the additional requirements of an estimated 4,000,000 in the summer are met by members of the farmer's own family working in the fields. The remainder must be secured from outside sources. Labour is supplied so far as possible within each state, but when it becomes necessary to recruit labour elsewhere the Division of Labour, War Food Administration, is responsible for the recruitment and distribution. In such cases no placements are made without individual contacts with the farmers. In 1944, 70,000 workers for farms were !brought in from Mexico, 17,000 from Jamaica, 5,000 from the Bahamas, and 1,000 from the Barbados for seasonal work and 1,000 from Newfoundland for year round dairy farm work in the New England States. Approximately 75,000 prisoners-of-war were employed in agriculture. About 14,000 farm workers were moved from crop failure areas, but no success has attended efforts to move men from marginal farms. No steps have been taken towards directing army rejects.

Year 'Round Labour Supply

Considerable attention was given to the more effective direction of rejects and men on postponement. It was pointed out that in one of the provinces stress is being laid on requiring increased production rather than transferring men to more productive farms. Efforts to transfer rejects had not been successful due to differences in interpreting "essential employment" and the number of steps necessary before a final decision can be reached. A committee was appointed to draft recommendations to be submitted to the Director of National Selective Service regarding a more effective direction of rejects. The following recommendations were made and received the unanimous consent of the delegates present.

1. The definition of a reject should be clarified to apply to all persons rejected from military service pursuant to call under NRMA.

2. Authority for determining essentiality should be vested in Regional Agricultural Advisers.

3. The word "agriculture" should be added to Section 210B of the regulations.

4. Enforcement procedure should be speeded up by the deletion of several of the steps presently required.

Conscientious objectors were considered to be a source of help particularly in the western provinces. There are a total of 9,329 postponed conscientious objectors, 80 per cent of whom are employed in agriculture of whom about 5,000 are under contract.

Considerable numbers of farm workers who could be spared from agriculture are now being directed to other essential work, particularly in logging and pulpwood operations. Appeals over the radio and in farm papers were helpful as was the letter to farmers from the Minister of Labour and the Director of National Selective Service, encouraging men to take employment in other essential industries, if they could be spared from their farms during the winter. The most effective means of obtaining this type of labour was through personal contact by either Selective Service officials, provincial fieldmen or company representatives.

Representatives of the Information Division of the Department of Labour and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation were present to take part in the discussion on publicity. In discussing the effectiveness of the Department's advertisements appealing to people to help on farms the general consensus was that appeals issued locally could be better timed to meet specific needs. Dominion advertisements might be issued early in the season as a general appeal. News-clips at theatres were considered effective if shown at the right time.

Farm Labour Problems in Transitional and Post-War Periods

It was suggested that a gradual relaxation of Selective Service Controls would probably take place during the transition period commencing with the defeat of Germany. Controls were designed to meet shortages of labour, but when supply became more plentiful the need for control would diminish. An order designed to stabilize farm manpower had been one of the first steps taken by Selective Service, and it was generally recognized that this stabilization order must be continued as long as there is an over-all shortage of farm labour, It might be necessary during the transition period for Selective Service to assist in seeing that not too many workers are obliged to make agriculture their means of existence. The necessity of obtaining a complete registration of farm workers as a prerequisite to Unemployment Insurance was noted and some of the practical difficulties mentioned.

The clause in the Selective Service Regulations which permits farm workers to accept non-agricultural employment outside of an urban centre of 5,000 population for a period of 60 days without a permit came up for discussion. Several of the representatives maintained that this clause provided the largest loop-hole for men leaving agriculture. A resolution was passed urging that the clause be deleted and that farm workers be obliged in every case to obtain permits to work in other industries.

Some fear was expressed that agriculture might become a dumping ground for labour in the transitional and post-war periods. The trend is toward fewer workers with greater skills to meet the labour requirements on farms. It was pointed out that farm settlement projects have not been too successful owing to a lack of experience and interest on the part of those settled.

Projects for training city workers as farm help have met with disappointing results. Organized training courses are more suitable for those with some background of farm labour experience.

In discussing labour costs as a factor in the farm business it was emphasized that more attention would have to be 'given to the efficient use of help employed on farms.

The feeling was generally expressed that the Farm Labour Agreements should be continued so long as there is a general shortage of farm labour. As the farm labour situation becomes less difficult it may not be necessary to continue permanent farm labour divisions in each province or have provincial agricultural fieldmen devote such a large proportion of time to farm labour problems. It was suggested that farm labour administration become a function of the branch of the Provincial Department of Agriculture in which the agricultural fieldmen operate.

If it is found after the war that Farm Labour Agreements are not needed to deal with the farm labour problem during each month of the year, joint arrangements should at least be continued to meet labour shortages during periods of peak demand such as harvesting.