The Full Story
Come next week, Minister of Labour and Social Security, Hon. Pearnel Charles Jr., will be heading to Canada to do a thorough check of the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Programme (SAWP) in which thousands of Jamaicans participate annually.
This was disclosed by Prime Minister, the Most Hon. Andrew Holness, during a Diaspora town hall in Ottawa, Canada, on Thursday (October 19).
Last year, the Government commissioned a fact-finding team to look into the SAWP, which found that most of the Jamaican workers were satisfied with their working and living conditions.
Mr. Holness, in responding to a question posed regarding the programme, said if the laws, standards, principles and policies of Canada or Jamaica are being contravened, “then there is no argument, we want to know.”
“The challenge we face is that some participants were saying there isn’t a problem and some were saying there is a problem. So it is the duty of the Government to take any complaint seriously and investigate it,” he noted.
It is for this reason, he said, that Minister Charles Jr “is tasked to come back to Canada and do a thorough check.”
The Prime Minister said that if the programme is found to be wanting, then “we have to work to fix it without prejudice to the people who benefit from the programme, meaning the Jamaican farm workers and the Canadian farmers. So, I think that this is an opportunity to improve the programme.”
For her part, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Senator the Hon. Kamina Johnson Smith, said notwithstanding the report of the fact-finding team, the Government has a responsibility to investigate further if concerns continue to be raised.
She indicated that Minister Charles’ mission during his visit to Canada is to meet with employers as well as the relevant authorities to make further enquiries.
Additionally, Senator Johnson Smith informed that there is a committee in the Canadian Senate on which a Jamaican-born Senator sits, which is charged with enquiring into the programme and is making recommendations.
“So, the scope of the problem is being assessed as well from the Canadian perspective,” she pointed out.
The report of the fact-finding team, which was presented in Parliament on April 16, noted that over 70 per cent of respondents believe that the treatment from their employer was either “good” or “very good”.
The overall assessment of the conditions of the workers was described as good.
In terms of living conditions, 70 per cent of respondents gave positive reviews of their housing and living conditions, with 30 per cent saying they were excellent and 40 per cent saying they were very good.
There were pockets of poor labour and industrial relations conditions. But these were mainly outside of the province of Ontario where the majority of Jamaican farm workers are engaged.