Jamaican migrant workers sent back from Ontario farm after exposing conditions
Published Tuesday, August 22, 2023 10:29AM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, August 23, 2023 12:36PM EDT
Jamaican migrant workers were sent back to the Caribbean from a farm in Ontario earlier this month after holding a one-day strike in protest of their workplace conditions – prompting the Canadian government to review the circumstances of their departure.
The workers arrived in Canada in the spring and were initially scheduled to remain at a produce farm in southwestern Ontario until the fall but were sent home on Aug 8., at least two months ahead of schedule.
“The mistreatment or abuse of temporary foreign workers (TFWs) is unacceptable and will not be tolerated,” government spokesperson Samuelle Carbonneau told CTV News Toronto Monday.
Jamaica’s Labour Minister Pearnel Charles said he met with four of the five farmers on Friday who were sent home to understand the circumstances of their early repatriation.
The ministry is conducting an ongoing investigation and said in a news release last week there were challenges with the crop at the farm in question, which can be a common reason to terminate contracts prematurely.
Videos shared to TikTok back in June showed the conditions that the workers were living in and prompted the Jamaican government to begin its investigation, which remains ongoing.
In one of the videos obtained by CTV News Toronto a row of toilets with shower curtains acting as doors are flooded to the brim, overflowing into the kitchen area of a bunkhouse.
In another video, a man can be seen shouting and swearing at workers, “That’s bullshit. This is costing me a f***g fortune,” seemingly alleging the farmers clogged the drain by pouring grease in it.
“You guys can clean the goddamn thing out," the man yells while standing in the middle of a bunkhouse of workers.
The man, who identifies the bunkhouse as “his property,” can then be heard telling the employees that they cannot stop working in protest of the sewage spilling into their living quarters.
“If you choose not to work today, that will be a problem,” he says. “You don't pick and choose the day you want to work -- anyone have a problem with my schedule?”
The farm in question has not responded to repeated interview requests from CTV News Toronto.
At another southern Ontario farm, a Jamaican man died in 2022 while operating farm equipment, triggering calls for the Canadian government to provide more rights and safety for migrant workers.
The Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program has recruited Jamaican farmers to Canada for eight-month stints since 1966 and has since expanded to Mexico and other Caribbean countries.
It’s a program requirement to provide workers with “adequate, suitable and affordable housing,” according to the federal government.
“The Government of Canada takes its responsibilities with respect to the protection of TFWs very seriously and takes all necessary measures to ensure the health and safety of TFWs and to ensure that their rights are respected while they are in Canada,” Carbonneau said.
CONDITIONS 'ROUGH', CURRENT WORKER SAYS
In a news release Friday, the Jamaican government said it has received no formal complaint from the workers and has been unable to substantiate local media reports in which a representative for the group suggested that they were sent home as “payback” for raising concerns about their living conditions.
The ministry also noted that some of the workers involved in the June incident remain on the job.
However, in an interview on Friday, a 24-year-old Jamaican still on the farm said six workers have since been brought in from Mexico.
“They were standing up for us,” the farmer, who CTV News Toronto will call Bibi to protect his identity, said.
The Justice for Migrant Workers said the premature repatriation and the employment of new workers are “attempts by the employer to suppress workplace resistance,” they stated in a letter sent to the federal government on Monday.
“This incident demonstrates that the existing mechanisms not only fail to protect workers, but actively facilitate their precarity both here in Canada and back home,” the grassroots organization says, indicating that these issues are system-wide, rather than isolated. “Workers who complain are routinely disciplined and repatriated.”
Bibi said the conditions at the Ontario farm are “rough," consisting of nearly 12-hour days of hunching over and pulling tomatoes until his contract concludes in October.
But at the same time, he’s thinking of his family back home, with a baby on the way.
“It’s an opportunity to come up here to actually seek something better,” he said.
‘NO WIN SITUATION’
Chris Ramsaroop, an organizer with Justice for Migrant Workers, said these farmworkers are left with “a no-win situation.”
The federal government launched a three-year program – the Recognized Employer Pilot – earlier this month aimed at addressing migrant workers labour shortages and ensuring those employees are safe from abuse.
But in Ramsaroop’s view, the federal government cut red tape for the employers while the workers still need a host of protections, including permanent immigration status.
“The only changes taking place are in the interests of employers and the government, not workers,” he said.