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Saint Lucian Farm Workers Complain of Maltreatment on Canadian Farm

By Reginald Andrew

Despite relishing the opportunity for a chance at overseas employment in a Canadian farm workers programme – a group of female Saint Lucian employees have expressed their dissatisfaction with the way they were being treated on that farm.

The female workers employed for nearly six months in the seasonal agricultural farm worker programme in Canada, are complaining of a level of ill-treatment and disrespect from the employers.

Latoya Ben, a resident from the La Clery area and food vendor, spoke out on behalf of the female workers that have been impacted by this latter development.

Speaking to the media, the female employee disclosed that the workers earned at least $700 a fortnight, from which taxes, rent and utilities were deducted.

“The money was not worth it,” Ben told the St. Lucia Times.

Consequently, the distraught worker is appealing to the local authorities to thoroughly investigate the issues pertaining to agricultural workers programme before contracting women to work on Canadian farms.

Ben contends that they were contracted to pick strawberries, but things did not work out as planned.

She said though the housing accommodations were adequate, and with them having to pay for utilities, however, “we didn’t know we had to work to pay ourselves. We didn’t know we had to be crawling on our knees 24-7 to make money to pay ourselves.”

She explained that strawberries are harvested from the ground, with pickers usually resting their knees on a gardening pad.

“You have to be crawling on your knees whole day,” said Ben.

She said the workers signed a contract to work for $13.35 an hour, however: “When we arrived in Canada we signed another contract stating that we had to work to pay ourselves.”

According to Ben, the farm did not pay them for working extra time or on holidays. She added that both Saint Lucians and Jamaicans were impacted by this latter development.

“We have a lot of pain in knees and our body …we pay for insurance and when we go to the doctor you have to pay insurance every fortnight and you can’t event buy pain killers from the money that you work for,” Ben complained.

The irate worker says that, “This is not a place for women …that kind of job is not for women. At the end of the day, we try our best to finish the contract, but apparently a lot of people got sick.”

Ben recalled that one day an employer sprayed the farm with chemicals, but afterwards some people began falling down on the farm. “When the boss came in, we strike on the farm and considered that we were not working,” she said.

A female manager arrived at the farm and questioned the workers about their ‘strike action’. In response, the workers said they could not continue to work as several persons had fallen sick on the farm.

And though Saint Lucian and Jamaican Liaison Officers visited the farm to analyse the situation in an effort to resolve the issue, Ben said, the disrespect ensued soon after the officers left.

The female worker says though she would relish another opportunity to work with the seasonal Canadian agriculture workers programme, it would not be at the farm where she and others experienced ill-treatment.

Forty Saint Lucian women made history earlier this year as the first batch of females to enrol in the seasonal farm workers programme in Canada.

Reports indicate that Jamaica have withdrawn its workers from four Canadian farms since the start of this year due to unacceptable conditions.

Meanwhile the Labour Department will tomorrow convene a virtual meeting with the Eastern Caribbean Laison Office to address all of the issues which have come to the fore pertaining to the Canadian farm workers.

The VOICE has been informed that after this meeting the Labour Department will be in a better position in relation to providing the public with a response to the issues which have been highlighted in the public domain.

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