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News - Barbados Plays Host to the 2006 Annual Review Meeting- Canada/Caribbean Seasonal Agricultural Workers Programme
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Labour News.

Barbados Plays Host to the 2006 Annual Review Meeting- Canada/Caribbean Seasonal Agricultural Workers Programme

Written By the Hon. Rawle Eastmond, Minister of Labour & Civil Service

Under the Canada/Caribbean Farm Labour Programme, now called the Canada/Caribbean Seasonal Agricultural Workers Programme, Barbadian workers are given the opportunity to seek overseas employment to fill the labour shortages that Canada experiences in its agricultural industry.

This overseas employment programme is now forty (40) years old and going into its forty-first season. Over these years, it has contributed significantly not only to the economic development of Barbados at the macro level, but also to the economic and social well being of the workers at the micro level. Through their participation in the programme, many Barbadian workers have been able to improve their financial status. Barbados has also benefited from the transfer of knowledge acquired by the Barbadian workers who have developed agricultural skills through the programme. Through the Canada/Caribbean Seasonal Agricultural Workers Programme, foreign exchange earnings have also been injected into the national economy.

The Canadian farmers are bound under the terms of the Memorandum of Understanding to guarantee workers a minimum of 240 hours over 6 weeks and up to a maximum of 8 months, unless extenuating circumstances dictate otherwise. Employers must also provide housing, cooking facilities, workplace safety and insurance board benefits, partial airfare (of which a portion is recoverable from the worker), transportation to and from the airport, and transportation to and from the main town for shopping, banking and medical care.

The Memorandum of Understanding between the Caribbean Governments and the Government of Canada for the Seasonal Agricultural Workers’ Programme also provides for the annual review of the operations of the programme and the functioning of the worker/employer agreement by representatives of employers and the Canadian and Caribbean Governments.

These annual meetings provide the opportunity for Ministers, Liaison Officers and other participants in the programme to meet and converse directly with Canadian personnel including Ministers and employers.

At the 2005 Annual Review Meeting held in St. Kitts in December, 2005, Barbados offered to host the 2006 Meeting. This meeting was successfully executed from December 4th-8th, 2006 and was hosted at the Savannah Hotel. Some forty-four delegates from Canada and the supply countries across the region attended. Administrative and operational issues relating to wages, accommodation, health insurance and contracts were high on the agenda.

Meetings such as this have greatly contributed to the success and durability of the Canada/Caribbean Seasonal Agricultural Workers Programme as they provide a forum for the clarification of any areas of concern in the operations of the programme and have therefore helped maintain a harmonious relationship between Canada and the supply countries. For Barbados, it can be argued that this programme has acted as a catalyst for over forty years of Technical Cooperation and Economic Partnership Agreements between Barbados and Canada.

This year’s forum also provided a valuable opportunity for Barbados to showcase its culture. Therefore, the Annual Review Meeting included a number of cultural activities to expose the international community in attendance to all we have to offer.

It was indeed a momentous occasion and an honour to host this meeting. However, we must be wary of the challenges that face the Canada/Caribbean Seasonal Agricultural Workers Programme and the opportunities it presents to Barbadian workers.

The Canadian agricultural industry is experiencing a number of challenges including:

  • growing international competition,
  • declining prices because of the appreciation of the Canadian dollar as interest rates reach record low levels
  • increasing costs of production due to rising energy and labour costs,
  • the decline of tobacco industry.


What does this mean?

It simply means that in the immediate future, there may be fewer opportunities for Barbadians to gain work on Canadian farms. I say this against the background that we compete with other Caribbean nationals for work – mainly Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and the OECS countries. Mexico also has a firm foothold in the programme. If the share of the pie gets smaller, it stands to reason that the Canadian farmers will want to employ those with the best work ethic. Poor work attitudes remain a major problem for Barbados despite training programmes conducted by the Ministry.

For example Mastron Enterprises Ltd., a greenhouse operation had recruited 54 workers during 2004. This figure represented the largest number recruited by a single employer in that year. Unfortunately, bad attitudes and ethics, together with some very poor performances displayed by Barbadian workers at Mastron resulted in a reduction in the numbers to 27 in 2005. The other 27 came from the OECS countries. For 2007, only 27 workers were requested with less than half of these being repeat workers. In contrast, the OECS had 25 repeats out of their 27.

The Liaison Service continues to face challenges in securing new job opportunities and while that agency remains committed to trying, they cannot maintain the jobs if the attitudes and work ethics of Barbadian workers do not improve.

In response, the Ministry of Labour and the National Employment Bureau have developed a counseling and sensitization programme for workers aimed at improving performance, work ethics and attitudes, among other areas of concern. The Ministry therefore intends to increase its training sessions in its overall aim to help achieve better results. Furthermore, more vigilance will also be placed in the recruitment process.

The workers also have their part to play to rebuild these numbers. The Barbadian workers must remember that they are ambassadors for Barbados and they must redouble their efforts at surpassing previous performance, improve their work ethic and strengthen their relationships with their employers and co-workers.

Published: Monday, 15th May, 2006


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