Gov't launches probe after new reports of subpar conditions by Jamaican farmers in Canada
Pearnel Charles Jr

Jamaica’s Ministry of Labour and Social Security says it is closely monitoring reports coming out of Ontario, Canada from a cohort of Jamaican farm workers who have indicated that they are operating under subpar conditions.

The statement issued Friday, is in response to a report carried by the Jamaica Observer in which farmworkers accused the Jamaican authorities of abandoning them.

READ: Farmers fuming: Jamaicans protest living conditions at Ontario property

The workers said they withdrew their services on Thursday in protest after wastewater flooded their living quarters.

“The Minister of Labour and Social Security, Pearnel Charles Jr, has ordered an immediate investigation into the living conditions and work environment of the farm workers from this location.

“Liaison officers were directed to visit the location, to provide a fulsome report on the conditions of the farm workers,” the ministry’s statement said.

“The minister ...and his team are committed to ensuring that Jamaican farm workers are provided with the best working and living conditions. The Ministry of Labour and Social Security remains unrelenting in its efforts to safeguard the safety and health of our farm workers, and will continue to work with our partners, to ensure that the treatment of farm workers overseas is in keeping with the expected global standards,” the statement added.

The disgruntled workers claimed that their location was not one of those visited by a fact-finding delegation which investigated conditions on Canadian farms in 2022.

The flooding of their living quarters by wastewater was the final straw that drove them to walk off the job despite their fears that they could be retaliated against.

They describe the conditions under which they live and work as "inhumane".

According to the workers, two of whom spoke to the 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.

"A jus' lick him nah lick wi, man. Him nah go easy pon wi. When the minister [former Labour Minister Karl Samuda] come and say wi a live life, a this a the life weh dem seh wi a live. We have no representative. It crazy, man," said the worker, who told the Observer they have not been able to contact their liaison officer to report their distress.

In October 2022, Jamaica had dispatched the fact-finding delegation to investigate conditions on farms across Canada following the release of a letter authored by Jamaican workers there and advocacy from injured migrant farm workers.

The team released its findings in April this year, but those findings countered the complaints of the workers.

On Thursday, the workers sent several videos to the Observer depicting overflowing toilets and bathroom facilities with waterlogged flooring in the bunkhouse which features an open-plan layout cancelling every nuance of privacy.

In one video, workers recorded a meeting between themselves and their handler who, in an expletive-laced tirade, accused them of deliberately pouring grease down the drains on more than one occasion to cause the unsightly flooding. The man, who dominated the video, interrupted the workers' attempts to deny any such activity.

"We couldn't work this (Thursday) morning. The place so stink. One youth, right now him throat mash up because him had to go outside last night to urinate and yuh have to be careful how you go outside because you have the wild dogs outside and the skunk them all over the place," one worker said.

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