CASTRIES, St Lucia – The Canada-Caribbean Seasonal Agricultural Workers Programme has been in existence for about 50 years and is a notable example of cooperation between participating Caribbean countries and Canada. Over the years hundreds of farm workers from OECS communities have travelled to Canada and have engaged in gainful employment on farms across Canada.
Some farm workers have returned to Canada repeatedly for up to 30 years in some cases. The wages earned have assisted them to support their families, build new homes, send their children to school and to start small businesses in their communities. While in Canada, OECS workers are covered by Canadian labour legislation, provincial health insurance and all other labour-related benefits. OECS workers also benefit from mandatory supplementary health insurance coverage arranged by the Eastern Caribbean Liaison Service (ECLS) with a Canadian insurance provider. The ECLS is the Canada-based Unit of the OECS, responsible for coordinating the farm worker programme.
Recently the ECLS has further expanded the Programme to include more women and some non-Agriculture areas, including warehousing and culinary opportunities in Quebec, Canada. In 2022 over 40 OECS women joined the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program and worked on farms in Ontario, Saskatchewan, and Nova Scotia.
In that regard, we note the recent press reports about alleged challenges faced by women participating in the programme on a farm in Nova Scotia. This matter is currently being investigated by the Canadian authorities. The outcome of due process would be communicated at the appropriate time.
The impact of the OECS farm worker’s employment in the past few years has been significant, despite the challenges of the pandemic. During that time the ECLS was successful in mobilizing three charter flights in 2020 and 4 charter flights in 2021 – to facilitate the airlift of hundreds of farm workers to fulfill their employment contracts, in Canada when commercial flights were disrupted. These efforts resulted in workers completing their contracts and earning over 37 million Eastern Caribbean dollars in wages per annum, most of that returning to local OECS economies in the form of remittances.