National | Media Release

The NFU Supports Jamaican Farmworker Calls for Justice

The National Farmers Union (NFU) applauds migrant Jamaican farmworkers for bravely speaking out against the injustices they experience under Canada’s Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP).

As a national farm organization committed to promoting the betterment of farmers in the attainment of their economic and social goals, the NFU supports the Jamaican farmworkers in their struggle and demands for justice and legal protections. 

In an open letter to Jamaican Labour Minister Karl Samuda, migrant farmworkers from two southern Ontario farms wrote that the SAWP program is “systemic slavery” and that “it feels like we are in prison”: “We are treated like mules and punished for not working fast enough. We are exposed to dangerous pesticides without proper protection. Our bosses are verbally abusive, swearing at us. They physically intimidate us, destroy our property, and threaten to send us home,” they wrote.

The workers reported that they cannot appeal to government authorities to safely intervene: “When we call our liaison officers for help, they do not respond to us or worse, they take our bosses’ side and put a red mark next to our name so we are not hired back anywhere next season. This fear is what stops us and our fellow migrant farm workers from speaking up for our rights as workers and humans.”

On the day that Labour Minister Samuda left Jamaica for a SAWP site visit in Canada, Garvin Yapp, 57, a seasonal agricultural worker from Jamaica, died while on the job at an Ontario tobacco farm. The Migrant Workers Alliance for Change (MWAC) is reporting that another three unnamed migrant farmworkers have also died in Ontario this past month. The NFU expresses its deepest condolences to Yapp’s family and community and for all those who are grieving the deaths of other migrant workers.

The NFU also supports the calls for justice outlined in the Jamaican open letter, including: implementing and enforcing national housing standards; the issuing of open work permits that are not tied to a single employer; a functioning and protective anonymous system to report abusive employers; the end to blacklisting; legal worker representation for all SAWP contract negotiations; and, most importantly, the granting of “permanent resident status to all migrants on arrival, including seasonal farmworkers.”

As we await the Ministry of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada to share their early September proposals to expand the economic immigration stream to allow workers of all skill levels, including essential agricultural workers, pathways to permanent residency, we need to amplify the voices of these Jamaican workers and all those demanding status for all. Without full and permanent immigration status, farmworkers will be unable to fully assert their rights, and they will continue to experience unjust and dangerous working conditions.

Add your voice to the Migrant Rights Network’s (MRN) call for #statusforall migrant workers by signing their petition and by joining a local rally/protest in your community! If you are in Ottawa, join the “Ottawa Migrant Regularization March – Status For All!” on September 18th.

And, as Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) explores solutions to the issue of labour shortages in the agricultural and agri-food sector let them know through their on-line consultation (deadline September 28, 2022) why you think permanent residency status for all agricultural migrant workers—not expansions to temporary foreign worker programs—is the only just and equitable way forward. 

Photo credit: Jamaican farmworkers and members of Migrant Worker Alliance for Change