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Jamaica is sending a team to Canada to check working conditions on farms

Jamaica has appointed a “special fact-finding team” to investigate the working conditions of Jamaicans working on Canadian farms, after workers in the province of Ontario said last month they faced “earthquake-level exploitation”.

in the current situation subscriber On social media on Thursday, Jamaica’s Minister of Labor and Social Security, Karl Samuda, said a team of six “will travel to Canada to monitor operations, speak with workers on farms, and report back to the minister.”

The brief statement did not provide any additional information, such as what farms team members would visit or when the trip to Canada would be. “More details will follow,” she said.

A group of Jamaican farm workers wrote to Samuda in August denouncing their treatment on two Ontario farms, likening it to “systematic slavery.”

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The workers, whose names have not been released for fear of retribution, said they were in Canada under the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP), a decades-old scheme that allows Canadian employers to hire temporary migrant workers from Mexico and 11 countries in the Caribbean in order to plug Gaps in the country’s agricultural labor market.

Foreign workers brought to Canada through SAWP can get jobs for up to eight months a year, and many people have come to the country decades ago under the program.

“In the present form, [SAWP] The farm workers said in their letter, which came a few days before Samuda arrived in Canada to tour farms that employ workers from Jamaica.

We work for eight months at minimum wage and we can’t live for four months back home. SAWP is an exploitation on a seismic scale. Employers treat us as if we have no feelings, as if we are not human. We robots them. workers said.

But after his trip, Samuda said in a statement sent to Al Jazeera last week that he had not noticed “any evidence of abuse” on the Ontario farms he visited.

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“We have not observed any evidence of abuse,” the minister said, stressing that SAWP is “absolutely essential to thousands of Jamaican families, many rural communities, and all [country of] Jamaica”.

Between 50,000 and 60,000 foreign agricultural workers come to Canada annually on temporary work permits. They work in various roles, from growing and harvesting fruits and vegetables, to manufacturing meat.

But years ago, human rights groups reported a host of issues with SAWP and other immigrant labor programs. Advocates said the main problem is that temporary foreign workers are tied to their Canadian employers, which means they are not actually allowed to work for anyone else.

Foreign workers reported living in overcrowded, sub-standard housing, and many said they feared retaliation — such as deportation or being barred from returning to Canada for next season — if they raised concerns with their superiors.

In a statement Thursday, the Migrant Workers Coalition for Change, an advocacy group to which Jamaican farm workers belong, said workers were “ready to discuss the letter” sent to Samuda last month.

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The group said the workers are also ready to hold talks with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Immigration Minister Sean Fraser to reiterate their call for permanent residency for all temporary foreign workers, refugees, students, undocumented people and others in Canada.

Workers and their supporters said permanent immigration status is the best way to help ensure their rights are protected.

Asked if Ottawa plans to give temporary migrant farm workers a path to permanent residence, a spokesperson for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) told Al Jazeera last month that the government was exploring ways to help foreign nationals transition from temporary to permanent status.

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