Eighteen Jamaicans sent home from Canadian farm
Jamaica Gleaner Writer
Published: Monday | December 29, 2008
Minister of Labour and Social Security Pearnel Charles says he will be looking into the circumstances that led to the repatriation of 18 Jamaican workers employed to a mushroom farm in Ontario, Canada, under the Temporary Foreign Workers Programme.
The Jamaicans were among more than 70 workers, including Mexicans, who were sent home by the company a few weeks before Christmas under controversial circumstances.
A Canadian trade union – the United Food and Commercial Workers' union (UFCW) – which only last month scored a victory in an Ontario court to allow agriculture workers to unionise, claims the workers were fired by the company – Rolland Farms – and that 50 more workers, all Guatemalans, are set to go there this week.
In response to the claims, Rol-land Farms said the company was restructuring its operations in light of the economic pressures facing it and had therefore sought protection from its creditors.
However, Charles said the Jamaican Government was told that the workers were sent home because the mushroom crop had been infested with disease.
“They were ordered to close down the farm [because] they couldn't process anymore so they were sent home,” Charles said he was told by liaison officers in Canada.
He added, however: “I will ask for an update based on what is being published there (Canada press).”
UFCW is fearful that more migrant workers under the programme could be let loose by other companies and repatriated in the New Year.
“This is exactly the kind of programme, on a federal level, the government is pushing and expanding for the future of Canadian immigration,” argued UFCW representative Sima Zerehi in a telephone interview with The Gleaner yesterday.
“We are really concerned that this is a programme that is going to continue, especially since we have hard economic times ahead, and we can assume that there might be more companies that will restructure and try to re-evaluate their workforce and we are going to need safeguards to make sure no other worker suffers what farm workers face,” she added.
Charles said though, that while concerned about the security of jobs of workers in light of the economic difficulties facing some developed countries, Government has been satisfied that “it will be business as usual on the farms”.
Reaping what was planted
“They have planted so they will be reaping and they will be making requests … at this stage we have no announcements that will trigger that worry point,” said Charles.
Close to 8,000 Jamaicans are employed under the Caribbean-Canada Agricultural Workers Programme.