A group of Jamaican farm workers in Ontario, Canada, who on Thursday issued a distress call to media in their country after their living and working conditions went to a new low, are in high spirits following a visit from Ministry of Labour representatives to that space.
The workers, who said 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 on Thursday in protest after their living quarters were flooded with waste water which they said was the last straw.
Videos sent to the Jamaica Observer showed overflowing toilets and bathroom facilities and waterlogged flooring in the bunkhouse which features an open-plan layout. In one video, workers recorded a meeting between themselves and their handler, who, in a tirade punctuated by expletives, accused them of deliberately pouring grease down the drains on more than one occasion to cause the unsightly flooding. The man, whose voice dominated the video, interrupted the workers' attempts to deny any such activity, completely unaware that he was being recorded.
On Friday, the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, in a swift response to the Observer's article, said Labour Minister Pearnel Charles Jr ordered an immediate investigation into the living conditions and work environment of the farm workers from the location. It said liaison officers were directed to visit the location to provide a fulsome report on the conditions of the farm workers. According to the labour ministry, Charles Jr and his team are committed to ensuring that Jamaican farm workers are provided with the best working and living conditions.
The workers, speaking with the Observer Friday, were effusive in their praises to the Jamaican media houses that publicised their plight.
"Everybody happy today, everybody inna the bunk house say mi must tell you a big thank you. Nuff respect," a worker said.
"Mi si representative today and never know seh we have representative. The head for wi liaison office, the head was here," he said jubilantly.
"The response that we got from the Jamaican liaison service, we get a positive response from them. We had a meeting and we outlined everything to them, every negative and they promised to dialogue with the employers and there are a lot of changes to be done. We are not saying it is all going to be done this year, but we ask for respect, wi a big man, wi have wi family. We hope to see the changes in a few," the worker told the Observer.
"Last year it was two shower stall for 28 a wi, this year its four [shower stalls for 20 workers]. Imagine you deh bathroom an you haffi put out yuh slippers and a make noise fi nobody nuh buss in pon yuh [no doors, only shower curtains as privacy shield]. When mi a talk to the bigger heads (about a former farm on which he had worked) dem a seh a paradise there so compared to where I am now," he stated.
Noting that not all Jamaicans were sympathetic to their plight, with some individuals on social media ridiculing their distress, the men said, "Wi si some negative comments, but who feels it knows it. We a be di guinea pig. From the demonstration start, a there so wi a get a response. We meck wi voice heard. Them a say one voice can't make a difference, but just lock yuhself in a room one night with one mosquito and see how it go. One mosquito can make a difference."
The labour ministry, in its statement to the media on Friday, said it "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 workers are part of the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Programme, which began in 1966, and are spread across 655 farms in 10 provinces. The programme allows Canadian employers to hire temporary migrant workers from Mexico and 11 countries in the Caribbean to fill gaps in the country's agricultural labour market.