The Canada-Caribbean Seasonal Agricultural Workers Programme

An Important Avenue to Secure Steady and Decent Work for Nationals

By Winall Joshua

In 2015, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted its 2030 Agenda for “Sustainable Development” that dealt specifically with a plan of action which included the ending of poverty as one of its main objectives. In that context, Sustainable Development Goal #8 particularly makes provision for full and productive employment and decent work for everyone.

Confronted with rising unemployment, several Caribbean Governments have turned to the Canada-Caribbean Seasonal Agricultural Workers Programme (SAWP) as an important avenue to secure steady and decent work for their nationals.

A reasonable level of success has been achieved in this regard as statistics reveal that some Caribbean countries have significant numbers of workers employed in the Canadian Temporary Foreign Workers (TFW) Programme, with Jamaica leading the way with over 9000 of its nationals employed therein.

Therefore, the recent announcement by the present Labour Minister (Dr. Hon. Virginia Poyotte) indicating that some 50 St. Lucian women would soon be employed in this Programme in Canada should come as very good news for all of us, since it heralds an important milestone for St. Lucia’s continued advancement and growth in this very lucrative and beneficial Programme.

Twenty years ago, I successfully negotiated with a Canadian employer for St. Lucian female workers to be employed on his Farm in Canada.  As a result 12 women were recruited and sent to Canada to work on a tobacco farm. This was a very significant arrangement, especially in light of the fact that it was the first set of women from an OECS country to work in this Programme. Further, the understanding was that, if this trial worked out well, the number of women would be substantially increased in the following year.

Sadly, and regrettably, within a matter of two weeks the women’s contracts were terminated prematurely and they were returned to St. Lucia due to the fact that they could not meet the tedious and arduous requirements of the work. It turned out that none of these women had ever worked on a farm before and had no experience in that regard.

It is absolutely vital, therefore, that the process used in selecting these 50 women must be geared to ensuring that the mistake mentioned above is not repeated this time, with the emphasis placed on an efficient “interviewing and vetting” system that can properly identify which persons  are suitably qualified for this type of  work.

Many times Canadian employers have pointed out that while Jamaican and Mexican workers approach their work with a serious attitude and willingness to work, some of our nationals try to use every excuse, such as rain, snow and faked sickness, to avoid going out in the fields to work. It was with a view to dealing with this serious problem that the former Minister of Labour (Hon. Stephenson King) had started to introduce measures with a view to reviewing, streamlining and upgrading the SELECTION, RECRUITMENT and ORIENTATION process in the Ministry of Labour in 2018.

The important issue of SELECTION and RECRUITMENT of workers from the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) member countries was strongly highlighted in proposals for the increased participation and advancement of the OECS in the Canada-Caribbean Seasonal Agricultural Workers Programme that I prepared and submitted to its Director General, at his request, a few years ago.

In 2006, I was able to secure employment for St. Lucian nationals in the Canadian Province of Alberta for the first time. These workers were guaranteed employment at the Kananaskis Golf and Country Club (rated as the 2nd. premier Golf facility in the world). So excited was the General Manager of the Golf Club about this arrangement that he travelled to St. Lucia and personally participated in the interviewing process for these workers. The successful workers travelled to Canada, started to work and everything was going well until they began to fight and squabble amongst themselves and give trouble. Sadly and regrettably, they could not complete their contract and had to return home prematurely.

The good news is that at a meeting with the same Employer at the Kananaskis Golf and Country Club in Alberta in October 2018, he assured Hon. Stephenson King and me of his willingness to consider the employment of St. Lucian workers once again.

In 2001, I was able to identify and secure employment for Saint Lucian workers in the Province of Quebec for the first time, joining Jamaica and Mexico. So pleased was the Hon. Velon John, then Minister of Labour, with this development that he travelled to Quebec to (a) personally express his appreciation and gratitude to the Employer and (b) lobby officials of FERMES (Recrutement de TravailleursEtrangersTemporaires) for assistance in securing more employment opportunities for our nationals. Unfortunately, our numbers with this Employer have not increased since, and when Hon. Stephenson King and me visited him in 2017 in an effort to improve on our numbers, we were told that, although our workers were performing well at work, squabbling and infighting amongst themselves had become a serious problem. In fact, one of these workers had to be sent home for threatening the life of a fellow worker.

However, this problem not with-standing, we were still able to secure employment for Saint Lucians with another Employer in the Province, only to have these workers returned home before they could even complete one season.

I have taken the time to highlight these examples with a view to impressing upon everyone the imperative of having proper interviewing, selection and orientation systems that ensure our “good standing” as a reliable, competent and dependable supply country.

Presently, there are well over 20,000 workers involved in the Temporary Workers Programme in Canada; while Jamaica has over 9000 and Mexico over 5000, the OECS member states have less than 1000 workers combined in the Programme. Given the Programme’s current magnitude and the unquestionable fact that it is growing and expanding by “leaps and bounds” resulting in increased employment opportunities for countries already involved in it, we in St. Lucia must continue to position ourselves to take full advantage of this situation.

The Canada-Caribbean Seasonal Agricultural Workers Programme Intergovernmental Review Meeting took place on December 1st. and 2nd. 2021, and due to the Covid-19 situation was held virtually.

Participants of this meeting included representatives of the Governments of Canada, Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad & Tobago, member countries of the Organization of the Eastern Caribbean States, and the Canadian Growers and Employers. During this virtual conference several Agenda items important to the continuation and further development and Growth of the Program were discussed. These included a Review of Canada’s Public Health Requirements, Worker Health and Safety (Vaccination and Investments), Financial Support Measures for the Programme, Entry and Arrival Support for Workers, Proposals for Employment of Workers, Policy and Operational Measures for 2022 and so on.

Of particular importance to the virtual meeting, and what would have undoubtedly generated a good deal of interest and discussion, must have been the new Canadian Border Measure Adjustments which became effective on November 30th 2021, and plans by the Canadian Government that are intended to improve on the condition of employment of Temporary Foreign Workers employed in Agriculture, and protection from abuse by unscrupulous Canadian Employers which were announced earlier in the year.

St. Lucia and other OECS members involved in the Programme would do well to follow the lead of Jamaica and Mexico and ensure that all Health and Safety requirements including vaccination and testing are adhered to without deviation before dispatching workers to Canada. To do otherwise will most certainly impact negatively on our already tenuous involvement in this Programme.

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