Almost 300 Jamaicans are to leave the island this weekend to take part in the seasonal farm work programme in the United States and Canada, despite recent reports that several of their countrymen are among 47 workers employed to a farm in Canada who have contracted the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
The Jamaica Observer has confirmed that 125 Jamaican farm workers are to leave the island today for the US, while a further 170 will leave tomorrow for Canada.
All the farm workers will be required to sign an Instrument of Release and Discharge document before their departure. The document outlines the risks involved and indemnifies the Jamaican Government against any liability.
“Yes, they will be required to sign the document as the whole idea is to ensure responsible behaviour when they get there. We have told them about social distancing and the measures that they should take once they get to the farms,” an official of the Ministry of Labour and Social Security told the Observer yesterday.
The official, who is not being named, said the farm work programme is continuing despite the COVID-19 pandemic which has seen the US record more than one million cases so far with over 76,900 deaths, and Canada recording over 67,400 cases with more than 4,600 deaths.
Under the wavier the workers have agreed that they are responsible for any costs, damages and/or losses that may occur, or be incurred, as a result of any exposure to COVID-19.
Permanent secretary in the labour ministry, Colette Roberts Risden has been quoted in the local media as saying that employers in North America want the Jamaican workers and they were given a choice if they wanted to take up the offer despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to recent media reports, Roberts Risden argued that the ministry does not want to prevent the Jamaicans from taking the employment opportunities overseas but it has outlined the risks of going to work in those countries to those who have decided to go.
Since January, more than 5,600 Jamaicans have left the island to take part in the seasonal farm work programme, with the majority — just over 4,000 — going to Canada.
Last month, a migrant workers rights group in Canada urged the Jamaican Government to do all in its power to ensure that its Canadian counterpart takes full responsibility for the welfare of seasonal farm workers who have been allowed into that country.
Justice for Migrant Workers (J4MW) said more care should have been taken in opening the flow of farm workers, as policies aimed at their protection in Canada are generally lacking in good times and this would be worse in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Under normal conditions we have concerns. Under a pandemic we have more concerns,” J4MW organiser Chris Ramsaroop told the Observer.
“If Canada wants them to come…Canada should be held to account. The Jamaicans are on their own. There is no special protection put in place. They [Canadians] will allege and claim [that there are policies in place], but they don’t work well,” Ramsaroop argued, while describing the situation as “dangerous”.
In an April 1 joint letter to employers of seasonal workers, Canada’s Health Minister Patty Hajdu and Carla Qualtrough, minister of employment, workforce development and disability inclusion, stated that all seasonal workers would be subjected to a 14-day self-isolation period on their entry into Canada.
But the two ministers made it clear that their employment period would include those 14 days and as such they should be paid. Workers who breach the order, which is imposed under the Quarantine Act, could be subjected to fines of up to CDN$1,000,000.
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