Dismissed farm workers to be re-engaged

Dismissed farm workers to be re-engaged

An undated file photo of farm workers on the job in Canada.

THE labour ministry has indicated that it will be re-engaging the group of farm workers who were unceremoniously shipped back here last month after they in June blew the whistle on their farm’s management over their sub-par living conditions.

Friday, the ministry, in response to questions from the Jamaica Observer regarding the welfare of the workers, said upon conclusion of its investigations “regarding the recent subset of farm workers who were prematurely repatriated in early August” it has “decided to place the workers on other farms when the new season of operations begin in January 2024”.

According to the ministry, it “can confirm”, that the prematurely repatriated group were not blacklisted.

“No complaints were filed against these workers and there were no reports of a breach of contract against them,” the ministry stated.

It in the meantime the ministry reiterated its commitment to “resolving any issues that threaten the longevity of the programme”, adding that it “remains steadfast in protecting the rights of workers and maintaining the integrity of the programme, while expanding same”.

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.

A member of the group alleged that the abrupt dismissal was “payback” for them blowing the whistle in June. The Observer was told that the men received the news of their departure while they were in the field on Friday, August 4.

Labour Minister Pearnel Charles Jr, shortly after the matter was brought to his attention by the Observer, arranged for the face-to-face meeting with the workers, who felt they were victimised for going public with a video capturing their circumstances.

The ministry, following the meeting with the dismissed men, had in a response to their complaints 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

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 ordered an immediate investigation into the living conditions and work environment of the farm workers from that 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.

In October last year a fact-finding delegation was sent 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.

That team, the findings of which were released in April this year, countered the complaints of the workers, stating that the majority of workers were pleased with the programme and disputed that the working conditions were akin to slavery.

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