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Farm workers exploited – experts

Published:Friday | May 1, 2020 | 12:32 AM

Jamaican farmers who participate in Canada’s Seasonal Agricultural Workers Programme (SAWP) are vulnerable to exploitation and inequities, with little protection from Kingston, a local social-work expert has charged.

In the wake of 17 Jamaicans in the programme contracting the new coronavirus, Dr Claudette Brown, lecturer in clinical social work at the Faculty of Social Sciences at The University of the West Indies, Mona, has blasted the decision to have the latest batch of workers sign a waiver absolving their employers or the Jamaican Government of liability if they contracted the virus.

“This poor, vulnerable group is in need of protection, and it is the responsibility of the State to protect these individuals in their country of origin before they leave,” said Brown yesterday while addressing a digital conference on COVID-19’s psycho-social effects on migrant farm workers in Canada.

Meanwhile, Dr Simon Black, assistant professor of labour studies in the Faculty of Social Sciences at Brock University, said that seasonal farm workers faced structural vulnerabilities.

Black cited the closed work permit system that ties farmers to a specific employer, which reportedly sees them victimised by exclusion from key labour protections and social rights, including overtime or holiday pay.

Often held up as a model programme, with proponents citing a triple benefit for workers, the sending country and hosting state, it allows Canada to plug a workforce shortage while offering employers access to relatively cheap labour.

However, Black raised issue with the historical links of the farm work programme and the legacies of “slavery and indentureship, unfree labour, and within the context of global racialised capitalism”.

“Temporary farm-worker programmes have a long history of thrusting racialised workers into hyper-exploitative conditions, and they cannot be understood independently from unequal relations between host states in the global North and sending states in the global South,” the assistant professor said.