Since the 1960s when the Canada-Caribbean Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program was launched, thousands of migrant labourers have been recruited to work on farms in Canada.
The program has often been described as a win-win arrangement.
It helps to meet the labour needs of Canadian farmers who have difficulty recruiting local help and provides employment – albeit temporary – to workers from many islands in the Commonwealth Caribbean
But this program has not been without its share of problems.
Workers have been complaining of unfair treatment by some farmers and there are reports that some workers have run away from the farms to which they were assigned and in some instances were never seen again by the farmers.
Despite these problems, the program has continued to expand.
However, a recent CBC news report has highlighted the problem of one farmer, Andy Terauds of Carp, Ontario, who is having difficulty getting workers from the island of St. Lucia.
According to the report, for the past 25 years, Terauds has relied on the migrant workers program to bring pickers and planters from St. Lucia.
By the end of April, he normally has three St. Lucian workers helping him move his beets, tomatoes, broccoli, lettuce and other vegetables from his greenhouses into the fields.
But not this year.
And Terauds is blaming the bureaucracy for the delay in getting the workers – a problem which he says is “threatening to ruin his business.”
“”It’s almost put me to the point of closing the farm,” he was quoted as saying.
The problem arose after Canada expanded a program to collect biometric data, including fingerprints from foreign nationals coming to work in Canada.
But with no one in Saint Lucia accredited to collect the official photographs and fingerprints, the men each had to pay about $400 to fly to Trinidad to have the biometric data collected there.
We have learned that the workers’ biometric information was submitted weeks ago but is now awaiting processing by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada and this is holding up their arrival.
This delay is most unfortunate.
While the CBC report highlighted one farmer’s problem, clearly, he is not the only loser in the current situation.
Other farmers are affected by late arrival of workers and it also a big blow to these workers who have families and are looking forward to temporary employment through this government-to-government program.
Let us not forget that the delay in the arrival of these workers results in loss of income.
While in the past the farm workers program has been described as a win-win arrangement, it now appears to be a lose-lose arrangement for affected farmers and workers.
Many critics of the program have described it as an indentureship program and said it should be scrapped but realizing that there are benefits for both farmers and workers, we do not subscribe to this view.
Others have complained that some of the Caribbean liaison officers on the program have not been investigating the unfair treatment of workers and these officers have been likened to slave drivers.
We hope that the Caribbean governments who are sending workers to Canada are aware of the problems and are looking after the interests of these men and women.
We also hope that the Canadian government will make the necessary efforts to avoid the delays in the arrival of workers.