The Minister of Labour and Social Security, Pearnel Charles Jr, says his team is actively monitoring the situation unfolding in Ontario, Canada concerning farmworkers, who have expressed their worries about the conditions in which they live and work. Numerous reports on these issues have surfaced in recent weeks.
The workers, who say their location was not one of those visited by a fact-finding delegation which investigated conditions on farms there in 2022, stayed off the job last Thursday in protest after their living quarters were flooded with wastewater. This, they said, is just one aspect of the inhumane conditions under which they work.
According to the workers, two of whom spoke to the Jamaica Observer on behalf of their colleagues, the only remaining distinction between their living and working conditions and slavery is the fact that their boss has not hit them.
On Tuesday, Charles Jr issued a statement outlining steps to be instituted going forward.
Among the steps listed is the request for a comprehensive report from the chief liaison officer regarding existing concerns and an update of general activities of the Jamaica Central Labour Organization.
Other steps to be instituted are:
- The Management Committee, chaired by permanent secretary Roberts-Risden, will review protocols, guidelines and activities relating to the delivery of service to our farmworkers and provide recommendations for improvements.
- Meetings will be held with all stakeholders (employers, liaison officers, and farmworkers), starting with the Canadian Liaison Officers on Wednesday.
- A meeting and review session will be held with the fact-finding team.
- The ministry will highlight previously established communication channels for farm workers and identify additional platforms for farmworkers to freely communicate issues and complaints without fear of victimisation.
Charles Jr reiterated the Labour Ministry’s commitment to the farm workers, adding that other protocols will be put in place to ensure the integrity of the programme remains.
“The Ministry of Labour and Social Security is reaffirming its commitment to ensuring that the rights of our farm workers are not infringed and that they are provided with the living environments and work conditions that meet the best standards as established by the Canadian authorities,” Charles Jr said.
“Following meetings with all stakeholders, and based on the input received, we will make further determinations to implement additional protocols and guidelines to protect the integrity of our farm worker programme,” he added.
The labour minister also reminded farm workers to use established toll-free lines to contact the ministry directly with concerns.
The minister also encouraged farm workers to report breaches of employment to Service Canada, who will also strive to protect the rights of farm workers.
“Going forward, the ministry team will continue to work with our partners, to maintain the highest standards and best practices for this critical farm work programme,” the ministry said.