Thu | Oct 21, 2021

Farm workers positive - 17 Jamaicans contract coronavirus in Canada

Published:Thursday | April 30, 2020 | 12:25 AMMark Titus/Gleaner Writer

Seventeen Jamaicans are among 47 workers employed to Greenhill Produce in Chatham-Kent, Canada, who have contracted the coronavirus disease and have been placed in isolation.

Forty-five of the positive cases are migrant workers and two are members of staff from the community located in rural Ontario.

Efforts to contact Justin Geertsema, vice-president and general manager of Greenhill Produce, were unsuccessful. The family-owned operation is a leading producer of sweet peppers, with 86 acres of high-tech greenhouses. The labour pool of nearly 250 workers includes 111 migrants from Guatemala, Jamaica, and Mexico. Sixty-seven are Jamaicans.

When contacted, Collette Roberts Risden, permanent secretary in Jamaica’s labour ministry, told The Gleaner that her office has been in constant touch with Greenhill, the affected workers, and the relevant Canadian authorities regarding the welfare of her compatriots.

“Yes, based on our latest report just this morning (Tuesday), 17 Jamaicans are now in isolation after testing positive for the virus, but none of our Jamaican workers are seriously ill. They have either mild or no symptoms at all,” Roberts Risden said. “However, we know that the coronavirus is very dynamic, so things can change.”

“It is only today that we are getting the actual names of the individuals who contracted the virus because as you know, that is something confidential,” added the permanent secretary, who said that initial reports linked the spread to Guatemalans.

Roberts Risden said that Greenhill’s managers have given the assurance that the affected workers will continue to be paid 40 hours per week and be supported with medication and other supplies during their recuperation.

In a post on its website, Greenhill Produce said it was working closely with its municipality’s public health, which has been directing all protocols and isolation activities on the farm.

“Greenhill Produce cares deeply for our employees and takes all steps to protect their health and safety,” the post attributed to the general manager stated. “... No one will lose their jobs and all workers will continue to be paid.”

Up to press time, 54 tests from the bunkhouses came back negative while 13 tests were pending. Another 91 tests have come back negative for the rest of the workforce, with 24 more results pending, according to the Chatham-Kent health department.

DEEPLY CONCERNED

However, Syed Hussan, executive director of Canada-based advocacy group Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, told The Gleaner that seasonal labourers contracted to work in Canada should not have had to decide between their safety and earning in a foreign country.

“We are deeply concerned because the Jamaicans, like other migrant workers, have a contract with their employers, and just as how Canadians who are affected by the coronavirus are receiving $2,000 cheque grants, we have been saying to the federal government, pay the migrant workers the same, too ... ,” Hussan said.

“What we see is a Jamaican government, who like Canada, washed their hands from any responsibility regarding the welfare of the worker.”

He also reiterated his organisation’s call for the federal government to grant the Greenhill workers permanent residency status.

However, a Jamaican government official who spoke under condition of anonymity does not think this will be possible under any administration.

“We send 10,000 to 12,000 workers to Canada each year, but there are another 150,000-plus workers from other parts of the world, so while this is something that can be discussed with the Canadian government, I don’t see where that would be possible.”

Since January, 5,600 have left on seasonal farm-work programmes to North America. Approximately 4,100 of that number are in Canada.

With the emergence of COVID-19 as a global pandemic, farm-work migrants indemnified the Jamaican Government against liability if they contracted the disease.

mark.titus@gleanerjm.com