Montreal, Canada – Jamaica’s labour minister has rejected complaints from Jamaican farm employees who say they face circumstances akin to “systematic slavery” in Canada, saying he noticed “no proof of mistreatment” throughout a current go to to farms within the province of Ontario.
In a press release despatched to Al Jazeera on Friday, Karl Samuda stated he toured 9 farms between August 14 and 16, together with the 2 farms using the momentary migrant employees from Jamaica who raised the alarm over their work circumstances.
“We’re handled like mules and punished for not working quick sufficient,” the Jamaican employees, affiliated with rights group Migrant Staff Alliance for Change and employed below Canada’s Seasonal Agricultural Employee Program (SAWP), stated in an August 11 letter despatched to Samuda.
“Because it at the moment stands, [SAWP] is systematic slavery,” they wrote.
However, the minister stated that whereas working circumstances assorted on the completely different farms visited, he and his crew “noticed superb relations” between employees and their employers, in addition to with the Jamaican authorities liaison officers “based mostly in Canada to safeguard the pursuits” of the employees.
“We noticed no proof of mistreatment,” Samuda stated, stressing that SAWP is “completely important to 1000’s of Jamaican households, many rural communities, and all the [country of] Jamaica”.
‘Slap within the face’
In a brand new assertion on Friday, the Jamaican farmworkers slammed Samuda’s feedback as “a slap within the face of each farmworker and our households”.
“We really feel betrayed, just like the world doesn’t make sense. Since our letter got here out and received media consideration, our bosses have been telling us to maintain quiet or else they’ll shut down the farm and we’ll all lose our jobs,” stated the employees, who haven’t been named for worry of retribution.
“The Minister made it clear that we can’t look to the authorities for assist – that we as migrant employees should defend ourselves.”
The employees are in Canada below a brief migrant labour programme that started in 1966 as an settlement between Canada and Jamaica. Since expanded to incorporate 10 different Caribbean nations and Mexico, SAWP permits Canadian employers to rent momentary migrant employees to fill gaps within the agricultural labour market.
Overseas employees delivered to Canada via SAWP can have jobs for as much as eight months yearly, and many individuals have been coming to the nation for many years below the scheme.
“I can’t see individuals enthusiastically taking part in a programme for 35 years below the circumstances which at the moment are being asserted,” Samuda stated in his assertion.
“What I can verify, is that many individuals have seized the alternatives supplied by the programme, and have used it to considerably enhance the lives of their households and communities. I consider it’s completely necessary that we defend the rights of farm employees and make sure that they’re handled with dignity, and we should additionally safeguard the programme.”
However, for years, migrant employees in Canada have documented systemic abuses, together with poor-quality housing, a scarcity of well being requirements, and retribution from employers after they converse out about their working circumstances.
A lot of the issue lies with the truth that momentary migrant employees are successfully tied to their Canadian employers, defined Syed Hussan, govt director of the Migrant Staff Alliance for Change (MWAC) rights group.
“It’s extremely tough, if not inconceivable to claim any rights at work on account of this,” Hussan instructed Al Jazeera earlier this week.
“So individuals … have to simply accept circumstances of abuse and violence resulting in even loss of life due to the immense energy imbalance between them and their employers.”
Short-term international employees and their supporters have been calling on Canada to grant them everlasting residency as a solution to defend their rights.
“We are going to proceed to unite and battle for everlasting standing for all. Everlasting standing is the one method that we are able to fight these abusive bosses so that they have much less energy to threaten us and our households,” the Jamaican farmworkers stated on Friday.
A nationwide day of motion is deliberate for September 18, sooner or later earlier than Canada’s parliament resumes, to demand the federal government grant authorized standing to all international employees, refugees, college students and undocumented individuals within the nation.
Requested if Ottawa deliberate to offer momentary migrant farmworkers a path to everlasting residency, a spokesperson for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) instructed Al Jazeera this week that the federal government is exploring methods to assist international nationals transition from momentary to everlasting standing.
Between 50,000 and 60,000 international agricultural labourers come to Canada every year on momentary work permits. They work in numerous roles, from the planting and harvesting of fruit and veggies, to meat processing.
Canada exported greater than $63.3bn ($82.5bn Canadian) in agriculture and meals merchandise in 2021 – making it the fifth-largest exporter of agri-food on the earth.