Injured farm worker — we're treated like slaves

By Jasminee Sahoye

A Jamaican farm worker, who was injured on three separate occasions, the last leading to an amputated leg, had a rare opportunity to share his concerns during a consultation on the temporary foreign workers program with federal ministers of Citizenship and Immigration and Human Resources last week.

Winston Morrison, 37, who worked in the greenhouse at a farm in Leamington, Ontario tending to tomatoes, accompanied Chris Ramsaroop, spokesperson for Justica for Migrant Worker (J4MW) at the consultation.

Morrison, who is deeply upset with the way he lost his leg, said he explained at the consultation that farm workers are not treated with respect even though they are providing fresh food on the tables of Canadians. “If we are hurt, we are sent back home, We pay EI, taxes and yet we can’t get benefits. The system needs to change, we help build this country, we work 13-14 hours a day Monday to Sunday for minimum wage,” he told the Camera.

Currently, farm workers cannot leave an employer. They are obligated to work with the employer who hired them. “We need open work permits where you can work with any boss. We are treated like slaves, the only thing is that we don’t have chains around we hand and foot,” the outspoken father of six from Clarendon said.
Morrison has been working eight months yearly in Canada since 2004.

He was injured when he fell in the greenhouse. Then in 2011, he was in a taxi with other workers from his farm going to cash their cheques and purchase groceries when the taxi cashed into a light pole. He injured his knee and back and was hospitalized. Shortly after the accident, he was sent home to Jamaica. “I was in a lot of pain and I didn’t want to go home,” he said.

While in Jamaica, Morrison’s knee became infected to the extent that doctors there had no choice but send him back here for surgery. This was after he pleaded with Jamaican authorities to send him back but they refused. “WSIB cut me off my compensation because they say that my leg was cut off because of the tumour and not because of my first injury. The Jamaican government has also cut me off benefits.

“The Jamaican government is not there for we, all they care is drawing their big money and driving the big vehicles. They don’t care about the farmers and it have to change.” Morrison feels that the Jamaican government should compensate him for his pain and suffering adding that “they are responsible for the farm workers overseas. I’m not fighting for myself. I loose my leg already, I’m fighting for the next people that something never go wrong with them because the system is so crappy and I need the system to be change because it’s all about the Jamaican government and the Canadian government because the Canadian government get so much benefit from we farm workers and they play like they don’t get it. I’m fighting for all farm workers wherever you’re from… We need to be treated with respect and love because you come here for one thing to better your family, your country and the country of Canada.”

J4MW’s Chris Ramsaroop told the Camera that migrant workers are the one directly affected by any changes to the farm workers program and need to be included in the process. He added that Morrison’s case is typical of many others farm workers who are afraid to speak out in fear of losing their jobs.

Meanwhile, the Jamaica Observer has quoted Minister of Labour and Social Security, Derrick Kellier, as saying that the country will be sending 2000 farm workers to Canada this year. There are about 12,000 Jamaicans working on farms in the USA and Canada.