Host of delegates will meet from Nov. 7-9
Programme has faced criticism from Caribbean residents in the past
PORT OF SPAIN, TRINIDAD & TOBAGO — The controversial yet long-standing farm workers programme could be set for some improvements in the future as a cohort of 60 delegates meets for a programme review.
This year’s Annual Review Meeting (ARM) is being hosted by the government of Trinidad & Tobago. Attendees were welcomed to a cultural display of Carnival costumes and dancing as the first day of meetings officially commenced today.
Trinidadian Minister of Labour Stephen Mc Clashie said his nation is honoured to be this year’s host.
However, he also emphasized the importance of ensuring the region’s workers are at the center of discussions so that the programme can positively impact lives and livelihoods.
In the words of the government of Trinidad and Tobago, “This meeting is held annually to discuss policy and operational matters in order to ensure improved terms and conditions for workers and the expansion of the Farm Programme.
“Over the next couple of days, the Ministry will host plenary meetings with the delegates from nine Caribbean countries and Canada.”
Work abroad jobs for Caribbean people
Since 1966, thousands of people from various Caribbean countries have participated in the Canadian government’s Commonwealth Caribbean Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (CCSAWP).
The programme, also called the Apple Picking or the Farm Programme, is similar to those introduced between the United States and Caribbean countries as early as the 1940s.
Under the CCSAWP, Caribbean residents have an opportunity to live abroad in various provinces whilst working on Canadian farms.
It was designed to meet the “temporary seasonal needs of Canadian agricultural producers during peak harvesting and planting periods when there are traditionally shortages of Canadian workers.”
As of today, workers from Mexico and 11 Caribbean countries are eligible for the programme. Participating countries include:
- Antigua & Barbuda
- St. Kitts & Nevis
- St. Lucia
- St. Vincent and the Grenadines
- Trinidad & Tobago
According to the government of Canada, Caribbean residents can hold Canadian agriculture jobs for up to eight months at a time, working full-time of up to 40 hours per week.
Workers must also meet certain requirements, including being at least 18 years of age, having some experience in farming, and meeting immigration and labour law requirements both of their own home country and of the government of Canada.
Farm jobs controversy
Despite the longevity of the programme, there has been some public criticism in the Caribbean.
Some have likened it to “modern-day slavery,” alleging that workers face harsh conditions and poor pay.
Several labour leaders throughout the Caribbean have looked into these complaints as they arose over the years. Most have stated that challenges were adequately resolved once they appeared.
Just recently, Jamaican workers on the CCSAWP programme claimed that they were being mistreated. Others working on a farm in Ontario were involved in a brawl and subsequently sent home.
In a statement, the government of Jamaica said that nation’s Minister of Labour, Pearnel Charles Jr., would be attending the ARM in Trinidad to “spearhead advocacy” for his country’s farm workers.