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Farm labour programme surviving despite challenges, says Barbados Minister

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

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BRIDGETOWN, Barbados (CMC) — Labour Minister Dr Esther Byer Suckoo says the future viability of the Seasonal Agricultural Workers’ Programme (SAWP) will be among agenda items discussed during the annual review meeting of the Canada/Caribbean programme now underway here.

Canada recently announced changes to the programme that Byer Suckoo said had benefitted many Caribbean countries even during the oil crisis of the 1970s.

She noted that despite the negative impact from the crisis, the Canadian and Caribbean governments, along with the employers, continued to negotiate contracts for workers enabling them to access employment; protection of their wages; and to ensure that acceptable terms and conditions such as housing, medical insurance and benefits for workplace injury were provided.

Byer Suckoo said the programme continued over the years until the SAWP hit “a stumbling block” in the 1990’s when there was a down turn in the global economy and the Caribbean underwent a structural adjustment period.

“Because history repeats itself, we find ourselves in a similar situation today,” she said, adding this has resulted in more stringent measures and conditions being enforced by Canada and other receiving countries participating in temporary foreign worker programmes.

She said as a result, for several Caribbean countries, this has meant a reduction in the number of people being recruited.

“This has proven to be a challenge for Caribbean supply countries and has been aggravated by an upsurge in competition from non-English speaking countries across the globe. Barbados sends fewer workers to Canadian farms and almost none to work in hotels, restaurants and stores under the low-skilled programme which is another employment programme we have with Canada.

“During the deliberations this week, we will again identify those challenges which are surfacing and which have the potential to impede the effectiveness of this programme and may even threaten its existence,” Byer Suckoo said, noting that attention was being paid to enhancing the workers’ technical and vocational skills with support from the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders and the Caribbean Association of National Training Authorities, which facilitated the introduction of Caribbean Vocational Qualifications and National Vocational Qualifications in a number of areas in the agricultural sector.

She argued that operational sectors and mechanisms in agriculture were more technologically advanced and everything must be done to “equip seasonal workers with the skills to function”.

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