Farm work probe

The labour ministry — in reacting to cries of victimisation by five of six Jamaican men over their sudden dismissal by a Canadian farm owner after they, in June, went public with complaints about their sub-par living and working conditions — says it will “thoroughly investigate” their allegations.

The ministry, in a statement issued on Friday morning, said it was up to that point, “unable to substantiate the allegations as publicised by the Jamaica Observer and had received no formal complaint from the workers”.

The ministry, however, said, “due to the serious nature of the allegations”, it would engage the five men in a meeting Friday morning, “to hear from them directly as we continue to investigate this matter”. Up to press time, there was no word from the ministry on the outcome of the meeting.

In the meantime, the ministry said preliminary investigations have revealed that, for the farm in issue, there has been notable fallout in production yield from the early cycle crops — asparagus and strawberry.

It further said that based on changes in climatic conditions, spring frost impacted the crop production, causing a decline in projected yields.

According to the ministry, “early cessation of employment is a common occurrence based on circumstances affecting crop production as is observed on several farms in Canada”.

The ministry added that several farm workers who were party to the complaint by the Jamaicans about conditions on the farm in June are still on the job in Canada.

A representative of the group, speaking with the Observer on Wednesday evening, had alleged that the abrupt dismissal was “payback” for them blowing the whistle in June. According to him, the news of their departure was given to them while they were in the field on Friday, August 4.

The men, who had stayed off the job for a day in protest after their living quarters were flooded with waste water, landed in Jamaica on Tuesday, August 7, a day after the island ended its Independence celebrations.

Labour Minister Pearnel Charles Jr, shortly after the matter was brought to his attention on Wednesday gone, arranged for the face-to-face meeting with the workers, who feel they have been victimised for going public with the video.

The video, which had been shared on several social media platforms and was also sent to the Observer at that time, 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.

Following the media highlight by the farm workers, Charles Jr had ordered an immediate investigation into the living conditions and work environment of the farm workers from the location.

Then in July the Ministry of Labour and Social Security said it would 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.