All’s well with Canadian farm work programme, says Charles Jr

LABOUR and Social Security Minister Pearnel Charles Jr says there have mainly been positive reports coming from overseas farm workers, following the Government’s probe into the working conditions of Jamaican farmers in Canada in June this year, which has since been settled.

“As it relates to the probe into the living condition of the farm workers [in Canada], it is my understanding, based on consultation through the management committee led by our permanent secretary and the liaison officers that that particular issue was settled perhaps within a week or two of the incident being published, and so far we seem to be receiving… I’d say positive reports,” Charles Jr said in response to a query posed by media personnel at Wednesday’s post-Cabinet press briefing at Jamaica House.

In June, the Government launched a probe after new reports of sub par conditions by Jamaican farmers in Ontario, Canada.

Charles Jr said since that investigation, the ministry, in discussions with liaison officers and the management committee, has undertaken a review of the farm work programme’s processes and systems.

“I personally, along with [state minister Norman] Dunn, have actually gone to the farm work division building, engaged with farm workers, and we continue those consultations with a view to gathering as much information as possible to really get an accurate perspective on what the issues are,” he said.

He said this information gathering is crucial, as it has been found that the farms are so expansive with up to 100 workers on one farm “and they all have different perspectives and different views of how they see one or two liaison officers”.

“So, in that regard, we have had discussions with liaison officers and we will be increasing the number of liaison officers. We have provided new pamphlets and brochures for workers to explain to them their rights and to explain to them, how to contact us and how to report breaches,” he said.

Charles Jr said he has also had an opportunity to consult and engage with some of the farm workers before they went off to the airport, noting that “that continues and we expect that going into next year, we will continue to have those consultations”.

He noted as well that the ministry will be doing mystery calls, where they call people randomly “to get a feel of their own evaluation of their circumstances”.

Charles Jr also pointed out that the training programme for workers and liaison officers has been revamped and that the orientation programme is being ramped up.

The probe in Canada was triggered by a report carried by the Jamaica Observer in which farm workers, who described their living and working conditions as “inhumane”, accused the Jamaican authorities of abandoning them.

The group of Jamaican farm workers in Ontario, Canada, 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 in protest after their living quarters were flooded with waste water. This, they said, was just one aspect of the inhumane conditions under which they work.

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.

The workers also told the Observer they have not been able to contact their liaison officer to report their distress.

In October last year, Jamaica had dispatched the fact-finding delegation to investigate conditions on farms across Canada following the release of a letter written 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. That report said the majority of workers were satisfied with the programme and it was rebuffed that the farmers are being subjected to slavery-like working conditions.