Claims of alleged abuse of seasonal agricultural workers were headline national news in August 2022. But those spurious claims of “systemic slavery” by the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change have been refuted by the Jamaican Ministry of Labour. Its fact-finding team conducted about 70 farm visits across Canada. Although some situations were noted as not perfect, the team found that most of the Jamaican employees were satisfied with their working and living conditions.
Jamaican Labour and Social Security Minister, Hon. Karl Samuda, said that more than 70 per cent of respondents believe that the treatment from their employer was either “good” or “very good.”
“We recognize there is always more that can be done to ensure all workers have the opportunity for a positive and safe working experience while they help our farmers grow fruits and vegetables for the Canadian public,” says Bill George, grape grower and chair of the labour committee, Ontario Fruit & Vegetable Growers’ Association (OFVGA). “However, the report clearly shows that this can be done with specific targeted measures rather than assigning hateful and broad labels to all the hardworking farmers and their employees in the program.”
Of the 9,249 Jamaican SAWP workers employed in Canada in 2022, the majority (6,508) are in Ontario. The province stands out in the report, both in terms of workers’ above-average satisfaction with the liaison services in that province, as well as the more positive ratings of workers’ reported experience in that province compared to the national average.
“I am not saying that the place is perfect by [any] means, I am not saying it’s a perfect situation. But the fact of the matter is, when asked specifically if the farm owners treated them with respect, 87.1 per cent said yes,” Samuda said.
A deep sense of pride and fulfilment was observed among the vast majority of farm workers.
He informed that 73.7 per cent said they willingly worked on their days off in order to earn more money and not by force, noting that 2.5 per cent felt as if they were being forced.
Approximately 93.6 per cent of workers said that they do not work when ill, and among those who work during illness, one in five workers said they did so because they feared losing their jobs.
Also, 35 per cent of respondents sought health care and of that number, one in 10 said they did not receive access to healthcare.
Some of the reasons cited for lack of access include non-acceptance of health cards by doctors and the exclusion of certain health services from coverage such as tooth extraction.
As it relates to transferring workers between farms, Minister Samuda said that 85 per cent said they were never relocated during the period of their contract, and those who were transferred, said that this was typically due to the completion of work on their previous farms.
Sixty per cent said they worked exclusively in the fields, 8.8 per cent worked in greenhouses, and 7.6 per cent worked in packing houses.
The Minister noted that 70 per cent of the contracts ranged between five and eight months, but just under 30 per cent were on eight-month contracts. “We want to extend more on eight-month contracts, but that depends on the type of crops,” he said.
In terms of living conditions, Mr. Samuda said this varied across Canada, noting that most of the workers rated their situation as “good” and “very good.”
“Seventy 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. In terms of cooking facilities, 30 per cent said excellent and 48 per cent said very good. In terms of bathroom facilities, 24 per cent said excellent and 44.8 per cent said good. When asked if the housing facilities were clean upon their arrival, 95 per cent of them said yes,” the Minister reported.
Source: Jamaican Information Service April 27, 2023 posting/OFVGA May 15, 2023 news release