Trade unionist wants protection for farm workers

SENIOR trade unionist Vincent Morrison is urging the Government to move quickly to protect farm workers and, by extension, the overseas employment programme by including those individuals on the list of essential workers.

He said this is critical as amidst and coming out of the COVID-19 crisis, the work of these people is critical to food security.

“This shouldn’t be hard because the Ministry of Labour and Social Security normally recommends sectors and services as emergency services. For example, years ago sugar [workers]wasn’t a part of the essential services and, based on recommendations from the Ministry of Labour, they were placed as emergency workers,” he pointed out.

The labour rights leader said he was surprised that the labour ministry has not, at this point, pushed to protect the workers in the context of the crisis, by recommending the essential worker designation. “It would seem that the case is sound for those workers to be considered [essential,” he said.

Morrison is concerned that some farm workers could run into difficulty under the all-island curfew orders, which are now in place.

“The fact of the matter is that farm workers travel from all over the island to get to the holding centre [at East Street] in Kingston, where they leave from for the airport. And one wouldn’t want to see the workers leaving and having some problems [such as] missing flights because they’re not categorised as part of the essential services listing. I urge the ministry to give this serious and urgent consideration to recommend, particularly to the prime minister, that this category of workers be placed on the essential services listing,” Morrison said.

He said that as farm workers continue to leave for the United States to honour their contracts under the programme, which has maintained an impeccable reputation over the years, the workers can in fact be viewed as first responders, given the importance of maintaining and ramping up food security at this time.

“You have workers leaving as we speak. Based on the contractual arrangements that the ministry has with the farmers and the workers, despite the difficulty and the risk, the workers have to fulfil their contractual engagement,” he said.

Morrison, meanwhile, noted that there is a high demand for farm workers from other countries.

“Mexico has well over 90,000 workers in the farm work system in the US; we have about seven of 8,000 people, so if we are not fulfilling the contracts it wouldn’t be difficult for the farms to get workers from elsewhere. But I know there are many farms who have a deep preference for the Jamaican worker,” he outlined.

Morrison noted also that, going forward, the foreign exchange farm workers earn will be important to the economy. “With remittance dying, and tourism down, every effort must be made to keep the farm work programme alive. It is important that protection be given to the Jamaican workers,” he stated.

— Alphea Saunders

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