by Shamkoe Pilé
In the face of a worsening global economic crisis and increasing levels of unemployment, the Canada/Caribbean Seasonal Agricultural Workers’ Programme, often referred to in Barbados as the Farm Labour Programme, has been a source of employment for thousands of Caribbean people for 45 years.
And, Minister of Labour and Social Security, Dr. Esther Byer Suckoo has reaffirmed Government’s commitment to the programme.
Regional Ministers of Labour, Canadian government officials and stakeholders are this week participating in the CCSAWP Annual Review Meeting at the Accra Beach Hotel and Spa. During the talks, Byer Suckoo noted that the recession had caused a contraction of private sector businesses and an increase in unemployment. Consequently, she said the Farm Labour Programme was a beneficial initiative.
“The provision of overseas temporary employment through this programme is an intervention which assists Caribbean governments in relieving the hardships which may be experienced by persons affected by layoffs,” she explained.
The minister added: “Several unemployed persons, as well as some part-time and temporarily employed, welcome the opportunity to earn income or to supplement their existing temporary incomes through this programme.”
Describing the programme as “more than a financial or economic tool”, she said “… it has also been a social development mechanism for our Caribbean citizens”.
Meanwhile, Jamaica’s Minister of Labour and Social Security, Derrick Kellier, said the CCSAWP had been making a positive impact on the people of the Caribbean since the 1960s, and he also reaffirmed his country’s commitment to strengthening and expanding the initiative.
He pointed out that in the last three years his country dispatched over 6,000 workers to Canada.
“This programme has provided support to thousands of families, assisted with building their homes, better access to education, health care and social amenities,” Kellier added.
He further emphasised that the programme helped the rural economy of Jamaica.
“[This is] as a result of transfer of technology and the investment of resources. Workers come home and apply the modern methods which they have learnt through working overseas. Many of them have also become entrepreneurs themselves and employ persons when they are overseas,” he noted
Trinidad and Tobago’s Minister of Labour and Small and Micro Enterprise Development, Errol McLeod, noted that the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Programme was a model that could be used by any location to guide labour movements between countries.
McLeod said: “This programme is a model public private partnership and a shining example of South/South and triangular cooperation…”
He noted that this year over 900 persons from Trinidad and Tobago participated.
“We have seen a small decline in numbers, but the programme continues to be a source of income and support for many families in Trinidad and Tobago, and, indeed many a Caribbean family…,” he emphasised.
Moreover, the Trinidadian minister pointed out that the longevity of the programme illustrated that it was beneficial for Canada as well.
Montserrat’s Minister of Labour, Charles Kirnon, reiterated that over the last 40 years both his island and the region benefitted. He called on regional leaders and ministries to utilise workers of the Programme in promotional campaigns so that others would be encouraged to participate.
“To maintain the livelihood of this initiative, we need to sell the programme; and who is better able to sell it than those who work on the farms?” Kirnon queried.
He stressed: “I would suggest that in the future some of the workers speak at these forums so others will know what the benefits are, because workers can sell the advantages better than we can, since they experienced it.”
St. Lucia’s Minister of Education and Human Resource Development and Labour, Dr. Robert Lewis said he was testament to the fact that the Canada/Caribbean Seasonal Agricultural Workers’ Programme, and similar initiatives, were beneficial not only to the worker, but also the worker’s dependents.
“I want you to know that I am the son of a man who spent 20 years going to the United States to work on farms to cut sugar cane, and there are many men in my community and others in St. Lucia who have been to Canada and the US to work on farms.
“So, I know firsthand from experience what it means for someone, who works on a farm, to provide for their children so that their children could gain a livelihood and an education,” he said.
Lewis lauded the Canadian government and stakeholders for the programme and urged them to sustain it for the livelihood of the region’s people.