Montreal, Canada – Jamaican agricultural staff say they face situations akin to “systematic slavery” on Canadian farms, as they name on Jamaica to deal with systemic issues in a decades-old, migrant labour programme in Canada.
In a letter despatched to Jamaica’s minister of labour and social safety earlier this month, staff affiliated with rights group Migrant Employees Alliance for Change (MWAC) stated they’ve been “handled like mules” on two farms in Ontario, Canada’s most populous province.
“We’re handled like mules and punished for not working quick sufficient. We’re uncovered to harmful pesticides with out correct safety, and our bosses are verbally abusive, swearing at us. They bodily intimidate us, destroy our private property, and threaten to ship us house,” reads the letter, first reported on by Jamaican and Canadian information shops and shared with Al Jazeera.
The employees – who weren’t named for worry of retribution – are employed below what’s often called the Seasonal Agricultural Employee Program (SAWP), which permits Canadian employers to rent short-term migrant staff from Mexico and 11 international locations within the Caribbean to fill gaps within the nation’s agricultural labour market.
International staff delivered to Canada by SAWP can have jobs for as much as eight months within the yr, and many individuals have been coming to the nation for many years below the scheme. (Employees from different international locations can come to Canada by different short-term, migrant labour programmes.)
“Because it at present stands, [SAWP] is systematic slavery,” the Jamaican farmworkers stated of their letter, which got here simply days earlier than the nation’s Labour Minister Karl Samuda got here to Canada to tour farms using staff from Jamaica.
“We work for eight months on minimal wage and might’t survive for the 4 months again house. The SAWP is exploitation at a seismic stage. Employers deal with us like we don’t have any emotions, like we’re not human beings. We’re robots to them. They don’t care about us.”
Between 50,000 and 60,000 overseas agricultural labourers come to Canada every year on short-term permits to work in a variety of sectors, from the planting and harvesting of fruit and veggies, to meat processing. Canada exported greater than $63.3bn ($82.2bn Canadian) in agriculture and meals merchandise in 2021 – making it the fifth-largest exporter of agri-food on the earth.
But overseas staff say they’re compelled to dwell in crowded, substandard housing (PDF); to work lengthy hours in unsafe situations; to obtain unfair wages; and to face being deported or barred from coming again to Canada for the subsequent season in the event that they elevate considerations with their employers.
Syed Hussan, government director of the MWAC rights group, stated these staff are tied to their employers, which implies they’re successfully not allowed to work for anybody else in Canada. “It’s extremely troublesome if not inconceivable to say any rights at work because of this,” he advised Al Jazeera. “So folks … have to just accept situations of abuse and violence resulting in even demise due to the immense energy imbalance between them and their employers.”
Hussan stated MWAC has documented the deaths of at the least three agricultural staff this month, whereas 12 have died over the previous yr. Al Jazeera couldn’t independently confirm these figures. However towards that backdrop, Hussan stated the Jamaican farmworkers’ letter is “extremely brave”.
“It exhibits that not solely are migrants going through abuse and violence and demise, however they’re additionally organising and combating again in organisations like ours and taking dangers as a result of it’s crucial,” he stated, including, nonetheless, that neither the Canadian or Jamaican governments have responded to MWAC or the employees.
Contacted for remark concerning the letter, the workplace of Canada’s Minister of Employment Carla Qualtrough advised Al Jazeera in an e-mail that “the mistreatment or abuse of short-term overseas staff is unacceptable” and that federal officers “are in communication with the provincial authorities, who oversees investigations into office complaints, on this matter”.
Qualtrough’s workplace additionally stated Ottawa – which in 2021 put aside $38.1m ($49.5m Canadian) over three years to spice up assist for migrant staff – is attempting to enhance the programme and guarantee staff are protected. “Within the final yr, we’ve strengthened the office inspection course of, expanded the TFW [temporary foreign worker] tip line to supply providers in a number of languages, and are rising assist for migrant employee organizations,” it stated, amongst different issues.
Of their letter, the farmworkers had known as on Samuda, Jamaica’s labour minister, to push Canada to implement nationwide housing requirements, create an nameless system to report abuse with out the specter of retribution, make it simpler to alter employers, and permit the employees to symbolize themselves in contract negotiations, amongst different measures. In addition they demanded the Canadian authorities grant them everlasting residency upon arrival within the nation.
The Jamaican Ministry of Labour and Social Safety didn’t reply to Al Jazeera’s emailed requests for touch upon the letter and Samuda’s go to to Canadian farms in mid-August.
In a assertion on August 16, the ministry expressed “deep disappointment” on the demise of 57-year-old Garvin Yapp, a Jamaican farmworker who had participated in SAWP for 35 years. “Circumstances surrounding his demise are nonetheless being investigated, nonetheless, preliminary experiences are that on August 14, he was concerned in a work-related accident and was pronounced useless on website,” it stated.
However Hussan at MWAC stated the issues raised by the Jamaican farmworkers transcend just a few unhealthy employers – and that’s the reason his group and others have been calling on Canada to grant everlasting residency to all overseas and undocumented staff to assist them higher assert their rights.
“Persons are merely not in a position to shield themselves and so they face an infinite quantity of reprisals – and solely giving them full and everlasting immigration standing will repair this,” he stated.
In Could, Canada’s parliament unanimously handed the M-44 movement asking the federal government to draft and launch inside 120 days “a complete plan … to develop pathways to everlasting residency for short-term overseas staff”. “This movement would handle a few of these vulnerabilities confronted by short-term overseas staff by giving them extra entry to sources, safeguards and pathways to [permanent residency] for his or her contribution to our nation,” Randeep Sarai, the Liberal MP who tabled M-44, stated on the time.
Requested if Canada deliberate to offer overseas staff within the nation below SAWP a path to everlasting residency, a spokesperson for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) stated the federal minister has a mandate to search out methods to develop pathways to everlasting residence to overseas staff and worldwide college students.
“Tens of hundreds of short-term staff transition to everlasting standing every year. For example, of the 406,000 overseas nationals who grew to become everlasting residents in 2021, practically 169,000 of them transitioned from employee standing,” IRCC spokesman Jeffrey MacDonald advised Al Jazeera. “As we emerge from the pandemic, IRCC will proceed to discover strategies by which we are able to enhance the method of transitioning overseas nationals from short-term standing to everlasting residency.”
As public strain builds, Hussan stated he believed that change would come.
“I believe there may be an historic alternative for Canada to construct a fairer society proper now, and we consider that the federal authorities will do the best factor,” he advised Al Jazeera. “It can do the best factor and guarantee full and everlasting immigration standing for each migrant, undocumented pupil, employee, refugee, [and] individual within the nation.”