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Agricultural Workers

  • Issued: April 15, 2014
  • Content last reviewed: April 2014


Employment Standards Act

A law called the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (ESA) sets the minimum standards in Ontario for things like pay, hours of work, rest periods and time off.

How does the ESA apply to agricultural workplaces?

Most workplaces in Ontario (including farms) must follow this law; however, not all of the rules and standards apply to every kind of agricultural worker. What rules and standards apply depends on the category of agricultural worker. For example, harvesters are entitled to minimum wage and vacation pay in some cases, but farm workers are not.

There are four kinds of agricultural workers

  1. Farm worker – a person employed on a farm whose work is directly related to primary production of certain agricultural products. Primary production includes planting crops, cultivating, pruning, feeding and caring for livestock. It ends when the raw produce is transformed into another state.
  2. Harvester – a special category of farm worker employed on a farm to harvest, or bring in, crops of fruit, vegetables or tobacco for marketing or storage.
  3. Near farmer – a person whose employment is directly related to the growing of flowers or trees and shrubs for the retail and wholesale trade; the growing, transporting and laying of sod; the breeding and boarding of horses on a farm; and the keeping of fur-bearing mammals for breeding or commercial production of pelts.
  4. Landscape gardener – a person who does work that directly involves the modification or maintenance of land for a purpose that is mostly aesthetic.

Not all work performed on a farm is considered farming or agricultural work under the ESA. For example, some of the rules that apply to agricultural workers do not apply to employees who work in canning, processing or distribution. Generally speaking, these types of employees are entitled to all minimum ESA standards (although, there are special rules about qualifying for some of them). In some cases, the work a person does on a farm can fall into more than one category.

How can I learn how the ESA applies to me?

The Ministry of Labour is here to help. The Employment Standards Information Centre can answer questions about employee and employer rights and obligations. When you call, you will need to let the centre know your agricultural worker category (or if the work you do falls into more than one category) so they can tell you what rights you have. You do not have to provide your name or the name of your workplace.

Service is available in 23 languages including Spanish, Tagalog, Vietnamese and more: 416-326-7160 (Greater Toronto Area), 1-800-531-5551 (toll-free), 1-866-567-8893 (TTY). Resources are also available in multiple languages on the Ministry of Labour website.

Safe, healthy workplaces and the law

The Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) sets out the rights and duties of all parties in the workplace. It establishes procedures for dealing with workplace hazards and it provides for enforcement of the law. Subject to certain conditions and limitations, the OHSA applies to all farming operations that have paid workers.

Your rights

  • You have the right to know about any potential hazards to which you may be exposed. You have the right to be trained and to have information about machinery, equipment, working conditions, processes and hazardous substances.
  • You have the right to participate in identifying and resolving workplace health and safety concerns. If you see anything that looks unsafe, tell your supervisor or employer right away.
  • You have the right to refuse or stop work that you believe is dangerous.

Health and safety at work

If you have health and safety concerns at your workplace, tell your immediate supervisor or your employer. If the matter is not resolved, tell the workplace Joint Health and Safety Committee worker member or the workplace Health and Safety Representative. If the concern is still not addressed, call the ministry Health & Safety Contact Center at 1-877-202-0008. Services are available in many languages. You do not have to give your name.

If you are injured at work

  • If you require first aid, seek it immediately.
  • Tell your employer or supervisor about your injury right away.
  • Employers must arrange and pay for transportation if you require medical care and they must pay your wages for the day of the injury.
  • If you require worker’s compensation for a workplace-related injury/illness that involves health care treatment and/or time away from work, or lost wages, your employer must report your injury or illness to the Workplace Safety Insurance Board (WSIB), within three days after learning of it. For more information about filing a claim, contact the WSIB at 1-800-387-0750.
  • If you need help filing a WSIB claim or legal representation, contact the Office of the Worker Adviser at 1-800-435-8980. These services are free.

Can your employer punish you for refusing unsafe work?

No. Your employer cannot dismiss, discipline or penalize you for following workplace health and safety laws, for complying with a Ministry of Labour inspector’s order, for refusing unsafe work, or for missing work because of a work-related injury or illness. This would be a reprisal. To file a complaint for a reprisal, contact the Ontario Labour Relations Board at 1 877-339-3335.

Ministry of Labour Health & Safety Contact Centre

Call 1-877-202-0008 any time to report critical injuries, fatalities, work refusals. Call 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday for general inquiries about workplace health and safety. Always call 911 in an emergency.

More information

Health and Safety at Work
Farming Operations Safety

Disclaimer: This resource has been prepared to help you understand some of the rights and obligations established under the Employment Standards Act, 2000 (ESA) and the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA). It is not legal advice. It is not intended to replace the ESA, OHSA or their regulations and reference should always be made to the official version of the legislation. Although we endeavor to ensure that the information in this resource is as current and accurate as possible, errors do occasionally occur. The ESA provides minimum standards only. Some employees may have greater rights under an employment contract, collective agreement, the common law or other legislation.