KINGSTON — Minister of Labour and Social Security, Hon. Pearnel Charles, is assuring that issues relating to the United States (US) Overseas Employment Programme should be resolved shortly.
Mr. Charles was referring to measures implemented by the US Government in 2009, which prohibit the collection of recruitment fees for job placement for workers with H-2A (agricultural) and H-2B (non-agricultural) visas.
The regulations have prevented the deduction of the four per cent earnings of workers to meet the administrative cost of the Jamaica Central Labour Organisation (JCLO), which the US has defined as a recruitment agency.
“We have some difficulties with the liaison service, which is the organisation that goes on the camp, has discussions with them (workers), and see to their medical, legal and social affairs, while they are in the United States. That service is being questioned by the United States as to whether the workers are paying for it and if they didn’t participate in that service, would they have the job,” the Minister said.
Mr. Charles was addressing a group of approximately 170 farm workers at the Overseas Employment Services Centre in Kingston, prior to their departure to the United States, today (September 6), to take up various positions under the programme.
During a statement to Parliament last week, the Minister pointed out that changes in the regulations were a direct result of abuse that developed in the H-2 system, where private recruiters charged fees for job placement directly to the worker, “and in many cases, these fees were outrageous. In a number of situations, jobs were promised that did not exist.”
He further noted that in June 2010, the Ministry was informed that 100 H-2B workers had their visas withheld, because they had agreed to contribute to the provision of their social welfare services through payroll deduction.
“In correspondence received by employers and sent to the JCLO in July 2010, the United States Citizen and Immigration Service advised that the contribution made by the H-2A and H-2B workers constituted a recruitment fee or a condition of employment and accordingly, it was going to deny and return petitions of various H-2A employers,” Mr. Charles said.
The Ministry, through JCLO, advised that all employers should cease deducting the contribution made by Jamaican H-2 workers towards their social welfare services.
Through correspondence received by employers from the US Citizen and Immigration Service, the JCLO was made aware in February 2011, that it would not be permissible for employers to deduct from H-2 workers’ wages, the payments that the workers voluntarily requested to be made relating to their National Insurance Scheme (NIS) contributions, health insurance and savings.
The Minister noted that the Jamaican Government is insistent that the workers be protected while in America, and is currently in discussions with US officials. He emphasised that the point has been made that the workers are not paying for the liaison service, but rather making a donation towards their social welfare services.
“There is no problem with the American or Canadian farm work programme. In fact, we are in discussions with the farmers in both countries and (there is) the likelihood that the programme will have increased participation from Jamaica,” he pointed out.
The Minister noted that by the end of the month, the total number of workers deployed to Canada and the US will increase to 11,000 since the start of the year.
Meanwhile, Mr. Charles told the recruits that their behaviour and work attitude will initiate more jobs for Jamaica, noting that new job opportunities currently exist for pipe fitters, welders and heavy duty drivers who can read, have up to four years experience and are of good character.
“We are in the process of doing some selection. They should go to the Ministry of Labour offices in each parish and record their names, addresses and cell phones, and we will call (them) for interviews,” the Minister advised.
By Alecia Smith, JIS Reporter