Ministry makes it easier for farm workers to report issues
CHARLES... we will advance the welfare and suitable working and living conditions of our farm workers

THE Ministry of Labour and Social Security says it will be identifying additional platforms through which farm workers can blow the whistle freely and voice their issues and complaints without fearing backlash or victimisation from their handlers.

The change is one of several being eyed after a group of Jamaican farm workers in Ontario, Canada, last Thursday issued a distress call to the media about their subpar living and working conditions. On the heels of that appeal, Labour Minister Pearnel Charles Jr ordered an immediate investigation into the living conditions and work environment of the particular farm. Liaison officers were directed to visit the location to provide a fulsome report on the conditions of the farm workers.

On Tuesday, Charles Jr, in a further release, said after receiving a "fulsome brief regarding the concerns raised by the farm workers" there will be close monitoring of the situation. Going forward, Charles Jr said, he had further requested a comprehensive report from the chief liaison officer regarding existing concerns and an update of general activities of the Jamaica Central Labour Organisation, which is the body under which liaison officers operate.

Charles Jr, in a social media post made before the statement was issued on Tuesday afternoon, said an "urgent meeting" had been called with liaison officers for an update on existing issues and activities as part of the thrust to improve delivery of service.

"With a balanced and determined approach, we will advance the welfare and suitable working and living conditions of our farm workers," he said.

Farm workers have in the past complained that some of their liaison officers have ignored their concerns, modified their complaints and taken the side of their foreign employers, leaving them to fend for themselves. On Tuesday, the minister said farm workers are encouraged to report breaches of employment to partner Service Canada, which exists to protect workers' rights.

The core responsibilities of liaison officers with respect to services offered to Jamaican seasonal workers, according to the ministry, involve help with legal matters, health issues, natural disasters, conflict resolutions, accommodation and the return of remains.

The ministry on Tuesday said meetings will be held with all stakeholders (employers, liaison officers and farm workers) starting with the Canadian liaison officers today. It said a meeting and review session will also be held with the fact finding team.

According to the ministry, following all meetings and based on the input received it will make further determinations to implement additional protocols and guidelines to protect the integrity of the farm worker programme.

The Seasonal Agricultural Worker Programme, which began in 1966 is 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.

BY ALICIA DUNKLEY-WILLIS Senior staff reporter

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