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Farmwork programme under threat - Canada seeks to cut foreign workers

Published:Wednesday | March 4, 2015 | 5:58 PM

Canada is reportedly pushing to have more of its nationals employed under its farm-work programme, which could see the number of Jamaicans being recruited to do seasonal work in the North American country being drastically reduced.

Derrick Kellier, the minister of labour and social security, while admitting in Parliament yesterday that there are clouds on the horizon, said Jamaica and other Caribbean countries are pushing back against the proposal.

"The truth of the matter is they are wanting to get more Canadians involved in the actual farmwork situation there because of their own social problems," Kellier said.

"That would mean that they would then limit the amount of people who would then come from the Caribbean countries, not just Jamaica ..., (but) it has not been finalised. We are still in discussions about all of that because of the longstanding agreements that we have fulfilled (at) our end of the bargain for nearly 60 years now. We are still in dialogue and we are hoping that no change will be made so as to impair our people," Kellier added.

No return

Pearnel Charles, the opposition spokesman on labour, brought the matter to yesterday's sitting of the Standing Finance Committee of Parliament, saying "a number of people who have travelled may not be permitted to go back".

"The farm-work programme is almost a jewel to many people in Jamaica," Charles said, a view which was shared by Kellier who said it is not only important to the Jamaican economy but also to the families of the seasonal workers.

"We are standing our ground on it and we hope that not because of their own domestic election problems they want to make these changes," Kellier said.

The minister said he recently attended a meeting in Trinidad for the seasonal agricultural-workers programme which was attended by representatives of the Canadian government as well as farm operators.

"There are issues that were raised there. We came to no final decisions because we, from the Caribbean, made a very strong push back on them to get some more information before they can sign off on any directive where the programme is concerned," Kellier said.

Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, speaking in the Budget Debate last year, said 14,000 Jamaicans were employed in the overseas work programme last year, and that based on the liaison service in Canada and the United States (US), that number was projected to increase to 16,000 in 2014-2015.

Kellier said that close to 8,000 Jamaicans are currently in Canada working under the farm-work programme.