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Labour ministry seeks to clear air after farm worker's death

Published:Wednesday | May 18, 2016 | 5:00 AMChristopher Serju

Eight months after Jamaican farm worker Sheldon McKenzie died in a Canadian hospital, the Ministry of Labour and Social Security remains clueless as to the cause of his death.

Making the admission yesterday, Collette Roberts Risden, permanent secretary in the ministry, denounced as containing "major inaccuracies" a report in Canadian media that neither the Jamaican Government nor any of its agents tried to offer the injured worker access to health care.

"If you are talking about an autopsy report, we wouldn't have it, but I'm sure a cause of death would have been determined. Remember that his family had given power of attorney to his cousin who is domiciled in Canada. So everything relating to him - medical and legal - would have rested in their hands, so we would not have received that," Roberts Risden said during a press conference at the Ministry of Labour's North Street, Kingston, office.

The press conference was called in the wake of the report aired by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) on Monday, in which relatives of the deceased claimed there was a concerted effort to strip the 39-year-old McKenzie of his labour rights and cut off access to health care after he was hurt.

 

FORCED TO INTERVENE

 

The family members, who live in Canada, charge that they were forced to intervene to keep the injured man from being sent back to Jamaica, where they believed he would have received inferior medical care.

However, the Jamaican, who had worked for 12 years at Diciocco Farms Inc as part of the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Programme, referred to locally as the farm work programme, died on September 17, 2015, having fallen ill on January 26 of that year.

Roberts Risden said that, contrary to claims made in the CBC report, the labour ministry has been facilitating workers who find themselves in need of medical care, even after their contracts have ended.

"Right now, as we speak, we actually have workers who should have come back to Jamaica at the end of their season, but because they may have fallen ill in Canada did not come back," she said.

"They remained in Canada, and these aren't workers who are gravely ill like Mr McKenzie. They remain in Canada to be able to access health care and service. Once they go beyond (their contract period), we apply to the government for their work permit to be extended so that they can remain with the proper health care in Canada. This is something that happens routinely," the permanent secretary disclosed.

A statement issued by the labour ministry yesterday stated that McKenzie's medical team confirmed that he had suffered a stroke and needed an emergency operation to improve blood flow to the left side of his brain. The necessary procedure was carried out to stop intracranial pressure on the brain.

Despite this, his condition did not improve, and he still needed to be on a ventilator and did not show any signs of voluntary response.

Subsequently, on February 19, 2015, the medical team advised that should McKenzie wake from his coma, he would be severely disabled and would need to be placed in a special-care facility or have a special-needs caregiver around the clock to tend to his needs.

As such, on March 3, the adjudicator of Occupational Disease & Survivor Benefits Programme in Canada allowed the claim for "a head injury and entitlement to full loss of earnings from January 27, 2015 ongoing", the statement from the ministry explained.

christopher.serju@gleanerjm.com