An independent investigation by the Jamaican government has found the majority of Jamaican farmworkers who come to Canada each season are satisfied with their living and working conditions under the Seasonal Agriculture Workers Programme (S.A.W.P.).
The investigation, launched after international media attention emerged citing allegations of “systematic slave-like conditions” involving Jamaicans who come to work on Canadian farms every summer, wholly debunked those claims, finding the overall assessment of the working and living conditions was cited as good by Jamaican farmworkers.
“From our own assessment, we were able to observe a deep sense of pride, and fulfilment among the vast majority of farm workers,” the report reads. “A self-affirming presence that embraced the psychic fulfilment to their families and communities, rooted in the cultural sensibilities of a people who know what it is to show respect to one another, to display tolerance and understanding in their daily discourse, and a work ethic that underlines the importance of productivity, efficiency and equity in the workplace. This was the kind of observation, which underscored a much more impactful benefit of the program, and why Jamaican labour is in such great demand.”
The investigation further concluded that, “we are satisfied that there is no evidence to bear out the claim that the Canadian Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program is akin to ‘systematic slavery.’”
A survey of Jamaican workers found that more than two-thirds (66.9 per cent) of respondents agreed that the work in Canada aligned with their expectations, with a smaller group (14.6 per cent) saying that enrolling in SAWP and the work required is easier than anticipated. The general consensus amongst the respondents was a standard of a 10-hour day and 40-hour week.
Nearly three-quarters (73.7 per cent) of respondents agreed to willingly work on their off-day, citing extra pay as the driving factor. However, a little more than one-third (34.9 per cent) mentioned they would voluntarily work on their off-day to finish a job at-hand. Nearly all respondents (93.6 per cent) reported if they were ill and could not physically work, they would remain at their accommodation.
More than seven in 10 (71.8 per cent) Jamaican farmworkers believed treatment by their employer was either good or very good, and more than 87 per cent agreed that their farm owners treat them with respect. Overall, more than 70 per cent of respondents provided positive reviews of their housing and living accommodation, with 30.4 per cent saying it was “excellent” and 40 per cent describing it as “good.”
“Jamaican farmworkers are essential to S.A.W.P.,” said Ken Forth, President of Foreign Agricultural Resource Management Service (F.A.R.M.S.) that administers S.A.W.P. in Ontario. “The findings of the investigation reinforce the deep sense of effort, pride and fulfillment they carry with them on-site. That’s the reason why Jamaican labour is in such great demand.”
The investigation was conducted by an independent taskforce appointed by the Jamaican government that used a variety of methods to collect data from Jamaican S.A.W.P., including a survey, in-person and telephone interviews and focus groups, plus on-site inspections of 65 farms in six provinces across Canada. The team also engaged representatives of the Jamaica Liaison Service, the committee charged with the responsibility to oversee the management of the S.A.W.P., as well as representatives of the Canadian Regulatory Authorities, the Jamaican Farm Workers, Associations of Farm Owners and individual senior members of select farms.
More information about Canada’s Seasonal Agriculture Worker Program can be found at https://farmsontario.ca.