The seasonal farm work programme continues to attract thousands of Jamaicans despite the coronavirus pandemic, wreaking havoc in the United States and Canada where most of them are headed.
Up to yesterday the US had recorded more than 1.32 million cases of COVID-19 with 78,327 deaths, while Canada had recorded 66,434 cases with 4,569 deaths.
But this has not stopped the 125 Jamaicans who left the island yesterday for the US, or the 170 who are scheduled to leave today for Canada, where at least 17 of their countrymen on the farm work programme have already contracted the virus.
“Me ‘fraid yes, but a mi main source of living so mi have to do it and be careful,” said Raphael Henry who told the Jamaica Observer that he has been going on the overseas employment programme for the past 17 to 18 years.
“All we have to do is protect ourselves and stick to the rules and things will work out,” added Henry, who was among a group of farm workers being given last-minute instructions at the Ministry of Labour and Social Security office on East Street in downtown Kingston last Friday.
Henry’s fears were shared by his colleague Fred Francis who argued that the Jamaicans could not pass up the money despite the coronavirus pandemic.
“Mi family have to eat and Jamaica rough same way. The COVID a worldwide thing, so mi still have to mek a move same way. Can’t mek it stop you,” said Francis as he prepared to leave for the US programme yesterday.
It was a similar story from Kanwayne Gordon who was also headed to the US. He told the Sunday Observer that the farm work programme was his way to supply his family with food and other necessities.
“You done know that the work thing in Jamaica kind of slow, and at the end of the day coronavirus is in Jamaica, so all you have to do, just like how you protect yourself in Jamaica, you protect yourself overseas as well,” argued Gordon.
Among the group leaving yesterday was one man who gave his name only as “Allen”. He declared that he has participated in the programme for several years and would not stop now because of COVID-19.
According to Allen, he is confident that with his religious beliefs and his upbringing, his body can fight off the virus.
“You see on this Earth the Lord inspire everybody different, and the body mek up different. You have man weak and you have man strong. It all depends on how you tek care of your body from day one as kids, and how yuh mother and father grow yuh.
“Why you believe in New York the people who are strong dem a try develop a vaccine from dem to give the weaker man? My body well fed and a God mi believe inna. Jah me say!” declared Allen.
All the farm workers leaving the island this weekend have been required to sign an instrument of release and discharge before their departure. The document outlines the risks involved and indemnifies the Jamaican Government against any liability.
“Yes, they will be required to sign the document as the whole idea is to ensure responsible behaviour when they get there. We have told them about social distancing and the measures that they should take once they get to the farms,” an official of the Ministry of Labour and Social Security told the Sunday Observer on Friday.
Under the wavier, the workers have agreed that they are responsible for any cost, damages and/or loss that may occur, or may be incurred, as a result of any exposure to COVID-19.
Since January more than 5,600 Jamaicans have left the island to take part in the seasonal farm work programme, with the majority, just over 4,000, going to Canada.
Now you can read the Jamaica Observer ePaper anytime, anywhere. The Jamaica Observer ePaper is available to you at home or at work, and is the same edition as the printed copy available at http://bit.ly/epaperlive