The first batch of farm workers for 2020 began departing the island for Canada on Friday to take up employment opportunities under the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Programme. The final set is scheduled to leave today, January 6, for a total of 228.
The customary send-off ceremony was held for the workers at the Ministry of Labour and Social Security’s Overseas Employment Services Centre, downtown Kingston, where they got advice from Minister of Labour and Social Security Shahine Robinson.
In a speech read by state minister for Labour and Social Security, Zavia Mayne, Robinson reminded the workers that as ambassadors for Jamaica, they are expected to always maintain a good name, character and reputation, “not only while at work, but also in your personal time and space”.
“Wherever a Jamaican goes, much is expected, and only the best will be respected. Those of you who have already travelled, kindly assist those who haven’t to relax, acclimatise and become familiar with lifestyle and social environments. The orientation offered by the ministry goes a far way, but additional help is always a plus,” she said.
Robinson reminded them that they are not alone or on their own when they arrive in Canada, noting that the Liaison Service and its competent staff “are available to you every day, all day, and you will be given contact information for them”.
She also implored the workers to keep in contact with their families after they have left the island.
“We at the ministry also play our part in trying to mitigate the challenges, through our Family Services Unit, who will consistently contact family members to ensure all is well and offer as much support as possible,” she said.
In the meantime, Robinson noted that Jamaica has enjoyed a long, rich and proud history of 53 years in the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Programme. “In fact, within the region we have provided the highest number of workers every year and continue to significantly contribute to the success of the long-standing programme between Jamaica and our overseas partners,” she said.
The minister thanked the “thousands and thousands” of Jamaicans who have been a part of the farm worker programme over the past five decades.
“The contribution to national development in remittances, working tirelessly to provide housing and education for families left behind at great personal sacrifice cannot be merely bypassed or overlooked,” she said.
She also thanked the Government of Canada for its commitment and confidence in the partnership both countries share in the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Programme.
“I want to thank the High Commission and Jamaica Liaison Service staff in Canada for their service, for which we owe them a debt of immeasurable gratitude. Also, the numerous employers across the length and breadth of Canada, who consistently place the highest level of trust and confidence in our Jamaican people and rely on our Ministry to provide them with the very best workers,” Mrs. Robinson said.
For her part, Permanent Secretary Colette Roberts Risden encouraged the workers to use the opportunity wisely, and to work to the best of their ability.
“You’re not only working for yourselves, your families, your communities, but all of you are working to help build Jamaica and to make Jamaica a better place,” she said.
In her remarks, migration counsellor at the High Commission of Canada in Jamaica, Candace Brooks, noted that Jamaicans have made important contributions to Canada’s economy through the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Programme for more than 50 years.
“Canada has benefited from the skills and hard work of workers who come to Canada from all parishes across Jamaica — and we are grateful to you. As you prepare to come and in some cases return to work in Canada, we want to sincerely thank each and every one of you for helping our agriculture and for putting food on Canadian tables,” she said.
More than 10,000 Jamaican workers go to Canada annually, and about 85 per cent of these are returning workers. Approximately 230,000 workers have participated in the programme in Canada over the years.
Of this year’s batch, 185 have participated in the programme before, in some cases for five to 10, and up to 15 years.
The majority of the workers will be dispatched to Ontario, where they will be engaged in planting, irrigating, weeding, working in greenhouses and on poultry farms, and in fruit and vegetable production.