Health authorities across the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) have expressed concern over reports of maltreatment and disrespect for workers involved in a seasonal farm workers programme, in Canada.
Consequently, Labour officials from the sub-region intend to conduct ‘full investigations’ into the matter.
Speaking to the media on behalf of the disadvantaged workers, last week, Saint Lucian Latoya Ben claimed that female workers were subjected to physical and verbal abuse on a strawberry farm in Canada, including being called ‘hungry dogs’. She also reported about ‘unfair treatment and insufficient compensation’ for the workload undertaken on the farm.
On the home front, Labour Minister Dr. Virginia Albert-Poyotte gave the government’s support for a full investigation into reports that Saint Lucian farm workers suffered ill-treatment in Canada.
“The OECS and the Labour Department that is responsible for the farm workers in Canada – they are actually carrying out a full investigation,” Dr. Albert –Poyotte told reporters on Monday.
While stating that the ministry was aware of the latter situation, however, the minister said, she could not delve into matters as yet to ascertain the forthcoming reports and so, “when we get the report that is coming out of the investigation we will make it available to the media.”
In April, government announced that 40 workers would depart from the island en route to the Canadian -Caribbean seasonal farm workers programme,
Albert-Poyotte, a former trade unionist, said the OECS will also issue a press statement on the matter.
Said Dr. Albert-Poyotte: “I leave the departments responsible for the workers that went to Canada to speak very forcefully and in detail in giving the public the necessary information that they need.”
In the run up to this latter scenario, 40 Saint Lucian women made history earlier this year as the first batch of females to enroll in the seasonal farm workers programme in Nova Scotia, Canada.
Dr. Albert –Poyotte said it was the same agency that is responsible for the work contracts to both Saint Lucian and Jamaican farm workers “and the OECS is overlooking the situation , supervising the situation and if anything is not right they will act similarly as to what happens to Jamaican (workers).”
The minister added that from the reports submitted, she will await “the full details …and do not want to make a statement that is out of context”.
Notably, Jamaica is reported to have withdrawn its workers from four Canadian farms since the start of this year due to unacceptable conditions.
Meanwhile, it is reported that migrants and migrant-led organizations in Canada are urging equal rights, benefits and essential services for migrants.
Reports indicate that the grassroots movement for migrant workers’ rights – ‘No One Is Illegal’ (NOII) – is one of the ‘crusaders’ championing the cause of the affected workers.
On its Facebook page, NOII said it regularly receives reports of abuse from migrant farm workers throughout the province and is supporting workers to organise and stand for their rights.
According to the group, temporary immigration status in Canada makes it difficult for migrant workers to speak out about the abuse they are experiencing.
NOII explained that those who speak out can be fired, sent back to their home country, and not called back again.