Caribbean migrant farm workers start arriving amid COVID-19 pandemic

Several flights of Jamaican migrant workers have already landed  in Ontario for this year’s Canada-Caribbean Seasonal Agricultural Workers Programme.

And according to Ken Fort, President of  the  Mississauga-based Foreign Agricultural Resource Management Services Limited  (FARMS), more Jamaican workers are expected shortly.

However, so far, no workers have arrived from Eastern  Caribbean countries.

Workers from several Commonwealth Caribbean countries are recruited for the Program but Fort told the Caribbean Camera that in the Eastern Caribbean ” there are some issues with the airlines .

“And workers from several islands have to get to Barbados for their flight to Canada  but right now we can’t fly out of Barbados.”

He alao  noted that there was a great deal of uncertainty about the virus issue and the food industry.”

“We don’t know how Canadians are going to change their buying habits as a result of having a month off.  They may not be buying the same stuff and restaurants are hurting because people get away from going to restaurants .

“You know,  maybe  people will go back to them in droves but we don’t know that .So it’s very uncertain right now as far as the food supply is concerned.”

Asked about the possible impact of the current pandemic on the Program and protection for the workers, Fort said that before they (the workers) leave Jamaica they get the thermometer test to check for fever and before they get on the aircraft, they are asked how they are feeling and when they arrive in Canada they go into isolation and  monitor themselves every day. They take their temperatures and it’s recorded.”

Forth said that there were about 9,000 Caribbean workers, including about 500 women, in the Program in Ontario last year but a few farmers have not hired workers this year.

“But not a significant amount as as yet.”

Meanwhile, Chris Ramsaroop, an advocate from Justicia for  Migrant Workers,  commenting on the uncertainty facing  the workers, said  “we cannot continue to cry about Canada’s food security crisis when the people who put food on our table live and work under a perpetual system of food insecurity and poverty.

” Workers in Canada also face tremendous uncertainty and a lack of clarity of what steps their employers will take to protect the interests of their workforce.

” If the farm bosses were concerned about the welfare of migrant farm workers, concrete steps would have been taken to strengthen labour protections so that agricultural workers are provided with protections similar to what other workers enjoy in other industries.

” It is important that we scratch beneath the surface of the growers rhetoric to understand that they do not care about the well being of farm workers and are only protecting their levels of production.”

 Ramsaroop  pointed out that  “currently, migrant workers in the Caribbean are facing increasing levels of poverty and hunger with no clear answer about when they will come to work in Canada and what conditions they will face once they arrive here.”

“It is imperative that income supports such as CERB and EI are extended to provide a cushion for Caribbean and Mexican farm workers,” he said.