Opposition warns against changes to farm work programme

OPPOSITION spokesperson on labour Senator Floyd Morris is cautioning Labour and Social Security Minister Karl Samuda against the restructuring of the selection process for the overseas employment programme, calling his proposal “an unfair act”.

Samuda, during the sitting of the House on Tuesday, announced that there would be a redistribution of the farm work cards to Members of Parliament who will then determine who is selected for the pool. The aim is to have between 3,000 to 3,500 people placed in a pool for overseas employers to choose from.

Morris, in responding to the Jamaica Observer‘s questions with regards to the proposed changes, said he is not prepared to support the move.

He said stopping workers from travelling while giving power to Members of Parliament to determine who is placed in the pool is an “injustice”.

Previously, the cards were given to Members of Parliament who would not only distribute them but also make recommendations on who should be selected. The final decision, however, would be made by technocrats with the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, according to Morris.

“I heard in the news that last year over 5,000 farm work cards were given out and close to 800 individuals were selected. The minister, whom I have a great deal of respect for, was wondering what was the cause of that? It cannot be based on the technical people unless the minister has greater particulars that he would have to share with me.

“Based on my experience and association with the selectors over the years, the fact that I was minister of state in the ministry, these people know what it is they are looking for on the farm work programme. To give the authority to Members of Parliament to determine who goes on the programme is wrong. Some of these people don’t have a clue as to what it is that the employers are looking for overseas.

“So how can you give them the responsibility to determine who goes into the pool to go on the programme and who remains? It’s a matter that one has to look at very carefully and the minister would be advised to tread carefully on that pathway,” said Morris.

He said the current set-up of the selection process is ideal and has been working and the need to change it is unwarranted.

“To abandon that old mechanism without giving me, as member of the Opposition and spokesperson better particulars, then I wouldn’t be in favour of giving the Members of Parliament that authority to determine who travels on the farm work programme,” Morris insisted.

On Tuesday, the minister said that he would be putting a hold on the farm work cards distributed last September and redistributing them. The distribution largely took place during the run-up to the September 3 General Election.

“In 2019, 4,643 cards to Members of Parliament were distributed, and of that total, they only took up 794. So I ask myself the question, ‘Why this drama about distributing cards?’ Something is not right with the programme. And I don’t intend to continue with this programme whereby I give, as you rightly say, false hope to people that they’re going to get a trip to America to go and work and make a livelihood for themselves,” said Samuda.

“The pool is now empty because what I’ve done is that all farm work cards that were given out in September have been withheld and they will be redistributed to the sitting Members of Parliament for the constituency that they were originally given to. They will choose from among those lists who they would like now for a new pool. That’s the first phase… and that is the basis on which we are going to go forward,” the minister added.

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