Glitches in Canadian farm work programme being fixed, Charles Jr
FROM workers complaining about poor working and living conditions, to employers complaining about the poor work ethics of some Jamaicans, the Canadian farm work programme was dogged by controversies last year.
But now Minister of Labour and Social Security Pearnel Charles Jr is confident that the issues which threatened the future of the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Programme (SAWP) in North America are finally being cleared up.
On Wednesday 111 Jamaicans left the island to participate in the SAWP in Canada and Charles Jr suggested that a more vibrant and responsive campaign to employ these workers is in the offing.
“We are working here as your Government, in collaboration with the Government of Canada, to make sure that we improve in the selection, in the orientation and in the management process,” Charles Jr told the workers prior to their departure from the Overseas Employment Centre on East Street in Kingston.
He told the crowded hall that his ministry has spoken to, and has met, with several stakeholders, such as senators, ministers, farmers and other partners, about a stronger orientation programme which is being developed for the workers.
“We will continue that dialogue to make sure that, as best as possible, we are creating an environment where you are safe, can excel and contribute, come back home and see where your hard-earned funds can be invested in your children, community and life,” he said.
“We are looking at the laws and the regulations, we are reaching out to all stakeholders that are relevant and connected to your journey and we are strengthening the liaison services for you,” Charles Jr promised the workers who have been given employment opportunities on various farms across Canada for several months.
The minister assured the workers that a stronger orientation programme is being developed for their benefit. He said that 2024 is the year when the Government is going to enhance, protect and improve the programme, but the Administration cannot do it alone.
“It must be done in partnership. Every farm worker is an ambassador of this country and how they perform is going to impact opportunities for anybody else to come,” he said.
He also said that the ministry is working with the Canadian and United States partners to ensure that the working and living conditions of the farmers are respectable.
In the meantime, Canadian High Commissioner to Jamaica Emina Tudakovic said of the 10,000 Jamaicans who have benefited under the SAWP, almost 3,000 have been working for 10 years or more.
The participation of women in the programme has grown slightly from four per cent to seven per cent, and 100 per cent of applications are now processed online to streamline the processes for improvement, the high commissioner said.
According to Tudakovic, Canada and Jamaica are committed to ensuring that the rights and dignity of all farm workers are protected.
“We have enhanced our regulations, we have enhanced abuse reporting channels, but I encourage you to raise any concerns [you have],” she said.
Last year several issues were raised about the SAWP in Canada with one group of Jamaican workers staging a one-day work stoppage after their living quarters were flooded with wastewater. This, they said, was just one aspect of the inhumane conditions under which they work.
A number of the protesters were subsequently sent home early although their employer, supported by the labour ministry, said this was not why their contracts were terminated early.
Subsequently, a worker’s rights lobby group based in Canada indicated that it was prepared to take further action if there is no satisfactory resolution to issues faced by some Jamaican workers at the farm in Ontario.
Later in the year permanent secretary in the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, Colette Roberts Risden noted that the undesirable conduct and poor work ethic of some Jamaicans participating in the programme was making it difficult for other nationals to secure employment.
“The minister [of labour and social security] and a couple members of the management committee travelled to Canada recently and one of the biggest complaints is the quality of the new worker that is coming to work, [particularly] the work ethic. One employer complained about a worker who said that he thought that he was coming to do a nine-to-five job and didn’t realise it was going to be so cold and things like that,” Roberts Risden told a meeting of the Public Administration and Appropriations Committee of Parliament.
Also addressing the send-off of the 111 workers on Wednesday, state minister in the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, Dr Norman Dunn congratulated the workers for “taking the bold step” of participating in the programme.
“One thing I want you to remember is that you are an ambassador for Jamaica. You are not there about yourself only, you are there to work to assist your friends and families and we want to hear continuously good things from all of you and from all the farms that you are assigned to. You must be on your best behaviour all the times,” Dr Dunn said.