AS controversy continues to swirl around the Seasonal Agriculture Workers’ Programme (farm work) in Canada, a number of Jamaican farm workers in that country have reached out to the Jamaica Observer to challenge claims by some of their colleagues that the experience on farms in the North American country has been brutal and hellish.
On Monday the Jamaican farm workers told the Observer that they have enjoyed positive experiences under the programme and charged that allegations by disgruntled colleagues were unfair and exaggerated.
The farm workers added that they are concerned about the impact of the recent negative comments on the programme which has provided them with the ability to make a good living for years.
Since last month there have been increasingly louder reports about the living conditions and treatment of the workers on farms that are a part of the programme in Canada.
But on Monday Lamar Minott, a 28-year-old from Portland currently working with Tregunno Fruit Farms, told the Observer, “My living conditions are stable and comfortable. I miss my family but I am here trying to help support them.”
According to Minott, his employer is a people person and, “You can talk to him whenever you have a problem. He also comes in the field on a regular basis.”
Minott expressed his gratitude for the programme and argued that putting a stop to it would be a mistake.
“Getting rid of this programme would be taking food and money out of the pockets of many Jamaicans. I hope this programme can continue and that many others will get the opportunity to participate in it. There are many unemployed youth struggling that a programme like this can help,” said Minott
Dave Brown, another farm worker who is now a supervisor, told the Observer that he has enjoyed a good time in Canada.
“My experience has been great so far. I have been working at Shuh Farms since 2016, and since 2019 to present I work during the ‘full season’ from March to October.”
The 35-year-old from St Mary said he has no problem with his living conditions.
“There was a brand new, up-to-date living facility built. I have a good relationship with my employers; they are nice people. In fact, we had a check-in meeting last night. We have these regularly in which all matters are addressed,” Brown added.
For Dwayne Evans, a 40-year-old cricket lover, he has faced no problems on his farm in Canada.
“I have no issues at all. I don’t have any restrictions, and when I go to play cricket on the weekends, I still get paid and my transportation is covered.”
Evans has been working with Frank Hewgill Enterprise for 10 years and is from Westmoreland. He is encouraging people interested in the programme to participate.
“Don’t let negative comments stop you; it’s about your own livelihood. Make that judgement for yourself after coming here and experiencing it.
“I think a lot of the persons who speak negatively of this programme expected ‘city living’ or something else. Maybe they didn’t plan to or want to work. However, where I am, the guys here are all comfortable,” declared Evans.
He added: “Maybe some employers probably didn’t request them to come back to work on the farm and these videos could be retribution, but that is just my opinion.”
The farm workers who reached out to the Observer on Monday reported that their average work hours vary between eight and 10 each week, but they admitted that some Jamaicans are asked to work longer hours on some farms.
They claimed that they have amicable relationships with their liaison officers, a claim that is starkly different from that of the disgruntled farm workers.
The displeased farm workers, who are affiliated with the human rights group Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, describe their experience as “systematic slavery” and being “treated like mules”.
The farm work programme allows employers in the United States of America and Canada to hire temporary foreign workers to assist with the development of primary agriculture.
Minister of Labour and Social Security Karl Samuda has found himself under pressure following a recent visit to farms in Canada after which he was reported as saying he saw “no evidence of mistreatment” of the farm workers.
With strong criticisms of his statement â€” which the farm workers said left them feeling betrayed and described as “a slap in the face of every farm worker and our families”, the labour ministry announced that it has acknowledged the reports from some disgruntled farm workers.
The ministry further announced that a comprehensive investigation will be done, including a task force sent to Canada to examine and review the conditions on these farms.