Jamaica to investigate migrant working conditions, mistreatment claims on Canadian farms

Jamaica’s labour minister has appointed a fact-finding team to investigate the working conditions of seasonal farm workers in Canada after initially dismissing Jamaican workers’ claims of abuse in September.

A letter from Jamaican farm workers, sent to Minister Karl Samuda by the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change (MWAC), described appalling working and living conditions for those employed under Canada’s Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program. The federal program allows employers to hire temporary foreign workers — from Jamaica, 10 other Caribbean countries and Mexico — for eight months at a time.

The letter highlighted the precarity of being tied to an employer who can fire and deport workers at any time and implored Jamaica to lobby Canada to grant seasonal workers permanent resident status.

Samuda later released a statement dismissing the mistreatment claims.

On Sept. 1, Jamaica's Ministry of Labour and Social Security announced a team of six people will travel to Canada to observe operations, speak with workers on farms and provide a report to the minister. The press release noted “further details will follow.” As of Sept. 23, no additional information or dates have been announced.

On Sept. 21, MWAC received an email from the ministry saying the fact-finding team was interested in meeting with representatives of the workers' alliance. The email said the team would be available for the remainder of this week and next week.

The ministry has yet to respond to MWAC’s efforts to organize a meeting with farm workers, both in person and online, for this Sunday. The alliance also asked who is on the fact-finding team and which cities and farms they are visiting, Syed Hussan, executive director of MWAC, told Canada’s National Observer.

The migrant workers are only available to meet on weekends because of their work schedule, said Hussan.

Samuda’s press release says the fact-finding team is “tripartite” but does not mention who the three parties are.

Natasha Bulowski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Canada's National Observer