A number of Jamaican farm workers in Canada have accused their employers of subjecting them to deplorable working conditions and are appealing to Labour Minister Karl Samuda, who left the island on Sunday, August 13, 2022 for a site visit to the programme, to have their concerns addressed.
The Jamaicans, who did not reveal their names for fear of victimisation, named two farms on which they are employed and said they are united with their Mexican and Filipino co-workers in calling for better living and working conditions.
"We are living in a First World country but at both these farms rats are eating our food. We do not have clothes dryers so when it rains we are forced to wear cold, wet clothing to work. We live in crowded rooms and have zero privacy. There are cameras around the houses so it feels like we are in prison," the workers said in a letter e-mailed to the Jamaica Observer and which they claimed was sent to Samuda on August 11, 2022.
The Observer was unable to speak to Samuda on Sunday as he was travelling at the time the newspaper called.
The Jamaicans, who are employed under the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Programme (SAWP), described the programme as "systematic slavery" and said there have been no significant changes in the conditions over the years.
"We work for eight months on minimum wage and can't survive for four months back home. Employers treat us like we're not human beings. They don't care about us. We are not asking for charity â€” we are a proud people and we are looking for dignity, respect, and fairness," the letter read.
"We are treated like mules and punished for not working fast enough. We are exposed to dangerous pesticides without proper protection. Our bosses are verbally abusive, swearing at us. They physically intimidate us, destroy our property, and threaten to send us home," they said.
According to the workers, some of their colleagues at one of the farms were taken from agricultural duties last week "to do landscaping just to make sure the farm looked pretty for the minister's visit".
After completing the landscaping work, they said, the employees "had to work extra to catch up with the harvest" and will not be paid overtime.
"When we call our liaison officers for help, they do not respond to us or worse, they take our bosses' side and put a red mark next to our name so we are not hired back anywhere next season. This fear is what stops us and our fellow migrant farm workers from speaking up for our rights as workers and humans," they said.
The Jamaicans also said that they fear being kicked out of the programme by their employers if they report their experiences to Samuda, and insist that the truth will be hidden from him on his site inspection.
Stating that Samuda, as minister, is responsible for their well-being, the workers said they were asking him to:
1. Lobby the Canadian Government to implement and enforce national housing standards
2. Protect them at work by putting in place an anonymous system to report abusive employers, which will not put their safety or jobs at risk
3. Make it easier for transfers to another farm, either during the season or before the beginning of each season
4. Ensure greater job security and end the practice of blacklisting, meaning banning workers from the programme without a chance to appeal or be transferred
5. Remove the government agent deductions from their pay as they are currently paying for services they not receiving
6. Increase accessibility of liaison officers, including more visits to the workplace and bunkhouses during the season
7. Allow them to represent themselves and their interests in SAWP contract negotiations
8. Provide more education about the contracts they sign, and support them to access and enforce their rights
9. Call on the Canadian Government to grant permanent resident status to all migrants on arrival, including seasonal farm workers.
"If Minister Samuda believes it is in Jamaica's best interest to continue this programme, it is imperative that the Jamaican Government address these injustices and listen to our demands."