Government has vowed to fight to ensure that Canada keeps its Seasonal Agricultural Workers Programme –– commonly referred to as the Canadian Farm Labour Programme –– which employs dozens of Barbadians agricultural workers annually to meet the short-term demand for manual labour during the peak planting and harvesting seasons.
In a meeting today with scores of farm workers, Minister of Labour Dr Esther Byer-Suckoo did not reveal if she feared that the programme was in danger of folding.
However, Dr Byer-Suckoo made reference to the collapse last year of a similar programme for persons in the hospitality sector after Canada suspended work permits and employment confirmation for hospitality and other workers in the Canadian Temporary Foreign Workers’ Programme. And she gave the assurance that the Freundel Stuart administration would not “sit back” and allow this programme to die.
“The programme has been an important for you, for your families and for the Government of Barbados as well. It has been a successful programme and we made that point to the Government of Canada. We are not going to sit back and watch them shut down the programme but we will fight, we will continue to meet with them to discuss to ensure that this programme is viable,” the minister said.
At today’s meeting Dr Byer-Suckoo, who also has responsibility for human resource development and social security, alerted the farm workers to changes to Canadian law which will impact the way their wages are managed.
Barbados has had an arrangement with the Canadian employers to deduct a 25 per cent remittance from the farm workers’ wages and have it paid to Barbados’ liaison office in Canada. From this deduction, five per cent is taken to pay the administrative costs of the programme and the remainder is transferred to the Ministry of Labour here. According to the Ministry of Labour, a further $16.10 for every $100 earned per week is then deducted for social security and the rest is paid to the worker upon return to Barbados as home savings.
However, effective January 1, 2016 it will be illegal under Canadian law for employers to make these deductions.
“Other persons and other governments have been making deductions from workers money that was not necessarily used for the workers benefit and this is not in keeping with the best labour standards. This is not in keeping with the ILO [International Labour Organization] standards and now it is not in keeping with the Canadian laws. The Canadian officials ensure that their law is now in keeping with the ILO standards. So it is now illegal for employers to take out any money from your salary,” the minister explained.