Samuda leads delegation on tour of four Canadian farms

MINISTER of Labour and Social Security Karl Samuda, accompanied by Permanent Secretary Colette Roberts Risden, chief liaison officer, and members of the management committee of the Seasonal Agricultural Workers’ Programme, visited 237 workers and their employers on four farms in the Niagara-on-the Lake area in Canada yesterday.

His visit comes on the heels of complaints from farm workers in Canada claiming abuse and being subjected to deplorable working conditions by employers.

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 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.

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 during his site inspection.

Stating that Samuda, as minister, is responsible for their well-being, the workers asked that he address the injustices and listen to their demands.

But in a press release issued by the labour ministry on Tuesday, no apsects of the letter sent were addressed. Instead the release said while addressing the farm workers, Samuda emphasised the importance of their contribution to Jamaica, especially with regards to the foreign exchange which they send back home, noting that the funds contribute significantly to building Jamaica.

The release went further to say Samuda lauded the workers for making the sacrifice of leaving their families to become “true ambassadors for Jamaica” and for utilising the programme to uplift their families and communities. Samuda stressed the importance of workers using the programme “as a stepping stone” to making a good life for themselves and their families, and implored the workers to assist their children in getting the best education they can from the proceeds they make from the programme.

“The minister also applauded the farm owners for providing gainful employment to the Jamaicans, and expressed gratitude on behalf of the workers for the opportunities to work abroad,” the press release read.

It continued, “For their part the workers expressed their pleasure and confirmed their gratitude, noting that the overseas employment programme provides a stable source of income for their families. They, however, requested the minister’s representation regarding seeking a reduction in the amount of customs duties which they are required to pay on return to Jamaica, and expressed the desire for the establishment of a mechanism through which they can contribute to the National Housing Trust from their earnings.”

The press release concluded that Samuda undertook to make the necessary representations, and committed to facilitating an increase in the presence of liaison officers, encouraging the workers, and to making representation to employers on their behalf, where necessary.

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