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A Saint Lucian woman who spent nearly six months in the seasonal agricultural farm worker programme in Canada says she and other females experienced ill-treatment and disrespect, including being called ‘hungry dogs’.
She also said a worker was kicked.
Latoya Ben recalled earning around $700 a fortnight, from which taxes, rent and utilities had to be paid.
“The money was not worth it,” she observed.
As a result of her experience, she has urged the authorities here to do a proper investigation before sending women to work on Canadian farms.
Nevertheless, Ben told St Lucia Times she appreciated the opportunity the government gave women.
But she said when they arrived on the farm to pick strawberries, what they expected did not materialise.
“Honestly, the housing was okay even though we had to pay for housing and utilities. But we didn’t know we had to work to pay ourselves. We didn’t know we had to be crawling on our knees 24-7 to make money to pay ourselves,” Ben explained.
Strawberries are harvested from the ground, with pickers usually resting their knees on a gardening pad.
“You have to be crawling on your knees whole day,” Ben disclosed.
She said the workers signed a contract to work for $13.35 an hour.
“When we arrived in Canada we signed another contract stating that we had to work to pay ourselves,” she told St Lucia Times.
According to Ben, the farm did not pay them for working extra time or on holidays.
She recalled that both Saint Lucians and Jamaicans were impacted.
“They used to treat the Jamaicans like s***,” Ben said.
She said Saint Lucia and Jamaica Liaison Officers visited to analyse the situation.
However, she said as soon as the Saint Lucia official, who did his best to assist, left after ensuring that everything went well, the disrespect resumed.
“He did very well. He tried to help us. He told us to finish the contract then he was going to see if he could try to set up another farm, but not all of us could have gone,” Ben explained.
She said she would welcome another opportunity to work with the seasonal Canadian agriculture workers programme, but not at the farm where she and others experienced ill-treatment.
Forty Saint Lucian women made history earlier this year as the first batch of females to enroll in the seasonal farm workers programme in Canada.
Jamaica is reported to have withdrawn its workers from four Canadian farms since the start of this year due to unacceptable conditions.