Tomato farm

Jamaican farmworkers in Canada organize against “systemic slavery”

Forced Labor

Jamaican nationals temporarily working in Canada under the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP) have exposed their experiences of “systemic slavery” at the hands of exploitative employers.

Workers raise issues with Jamaica’s Labor Minister

Jamaica’s Labor Minister, Karl Samuda, has been touring farms in Canada where Jamaicans are working. In a letter to Samuda, a group of workers affiliated with Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, an organization campaigning for migrant rights, explained the conditions they face:

“We are treated like mules and punished for not working fast enough. We are exposed to dangerous pesticides without proper protection, and our bosses are verbally abusive, swearing at us. They physically intimidate us, destroy our personal property, and threaten to send us home.”

How the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program drives exploitation

The SAWP program allows Canadian employers to hire foreign nationals from Mexico and 11 countries in the Caribbean to fill gaps in the labor force required in the agricultural sector. Foreign nationals under this program are able to work in Canada for up to eight months in a year, during which time their immigration status is tied to their employer.

This has driven a power imbalance between employers and workers that has contributed to the systemic exploitation of workers under this temporary program. Workers report having to live in substandard accommodation, receiving unfair wages, and being threatened with termination of employment and therefore having to leave the country if they make complaints against their employer.

“We work for eight months on minimum wage and can’t survive for the four months back home. The SAWP is exploitation at a seismic level. Employers treat us like we don’t have any feelings, like we’re not human beings. We are robots to them. They don’t care about us,” explains the workers’ letter.

Al Jazeera reports:

In their letter, the farmworkers had called on Samuda, Jamaica’s labour minister, to push Canada to implement national housing standards, create an anonymous system to report abuse without the threat of retribution, make it easier to change employers, and allow the workers to represent themselves in contract negotiations, among other measures. They also demanded the Canadian government grant them permanent residency upon arrival in the country.

The inability of Jamaican farmworkers under SAWP to demand their rights without risking their livelihoods is an experience replicated across migrant communities in Canada who are undocumented or do not have permanent residency status.

Syed Hussan from Migrant Workers Alliance for Change explained that this is why their group is calling for permanent residency status for all migrants and undocumented people in Canada. “I think there is a historic opportunity for Canada to build a fairer society right now, and we believe that the federal government will do the right thing. It will do the right thing and ensure full and permanent immigration status for every migrant, undocumented student, worker, refugee, [and] person in the country,” he said.

Secure immigration status is necessary for all migrants to be empowered to organize in their workplaces to call out exploitation and abuse without fear of retribution. This is a key component to any effective anti-trafficking strategy.

Sign the petition calling for safe migration and secure immigration status now!

Chip in and help end modern slavery once and for all.

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28 days ago

U fortunately this is misleading, I employ 10 migrant workers on my farm in Canada and I receive audits from the federal government to ensure my compliance with the swap, housing is inspected by health units and good employers like myself get a bad rap
20-30 years ago there was reason to complain, today these guys have it made, yes they have to work hard, but they don’t pay rent, hydro, gas or other costs related to weekly transportation, at the end of the month they keep more than my wife does

28 days ago

as long as ;liberals are ruling it would be this way.. conservatives are not good either but a shade better me thinks…

Raymond Potvin
Raymond Potvin
28 days ago

Is there a petition where Canadian citizens can ask their government to act promptly on that matter?
Raymond Potvin
Quebec, Canada

Monica Burns
26 days ago
Reply to  Raymond Potvin

Hi Raymond, Thanks for your question! We don’t currently have a campaign addressing this exact issue, but I would encourage you to reach out to your representatives and spread awareness in your community. All the best!