The ECLS in conjunction with the Ministries of Labour from seven OECS Member States convened the 2nd Annual Technical Working Group Meeting to review the 2018 season of the Canada-Caribbean Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP) and to deepen collaborative efforts among participating Member States, towards increased efficiencies in processing workers for temporary employment in Canada.
In the welcome address, Hon. Stephenson King, Minister of Infrastructure, Ports, Energy and Labour of St. Lucia, reiterated the significance of the Canadian Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program to OECS economies, and pointed to the valuable technology transfer that takes place as OECS farmers work in Canada and learn how to use modern farming techniques.
Minister King also highlighted the focus being placed increasingly on sourcing more opportunities for women to participate in the program.
Over the past year since the first such meeting was convened, Permanent Secretaries and Labour Commissioners from supply countries of Antigua & Barbuda, the Commonwealth of Dominica, Grenada, Montserrat, St. Kitts & Nevis, Saint Lucia and St. Vincent & the Grenadines, have strengthened coordination measures with the guidance and support of the Eastern Caribbean Liaison Service to have a more seamless transition of workers from their respective countries to their designated farm/employers in Canada.
The objectives of the 2018 OECS review meeting were:
- To review the 2018 SAWP season and propose remedial measures for 2019.
- To prepare the OECS delegation for participation in the 2018 SAWP Annual Review Meeting in St. Lucia, from 18-24 November 2018.
- To discuss the status, performance and sustainability of the ECLS in Canada, and formulate recommendations - for consideration by the OECS Commission.
- To discuss and develop policy recommendations, to address key issues affecting SAWP participation - for consideration by OECS Ministers of Labour.
Delegates engaged in extensive discussions to seek solutions to the many issues currently affecting the smooth functioning of the temporary worker program, such as:
- Biometrics requirement from January 2019 for all workers, prior to their visa approvals;
- Delayed worker arrivals in Canada;
- Communication between the ECLS and Ministries of Labour;
- Processing capacity of OECS Ministries of Labour; and
- Worker welfare monitoring capacity of the ECLS.
A policy brief, with focused recommendations based on these discussions is currently being prepared for submission to OECS Ministers of Labour for their consideration.
Further to the 2017 OECS review meeting, the Head-ECLS, Mr. Olaf Fontenelle, presented OECS Ministries of Labour with a harmonized e-process map, drawn from their respective country Selection and Orientation procedures, for consideration and future adoption.
Mr. Fontenelle also provided member states with an update of the 2018 season, as well as, giving a positive update on implementation of the 2018-2019 ECLS Marketing Strategy Action-plan. He thanked OECS Member States for their participation in 2018 promotional activities and welcomed their pledges of support and commitment toward participation in 2019 scheduled activities.
OECS Ministries of Labour were commended for their continued knowledge sharing initiatives, including a live demonstration of online worker visa processing, which was presented by the St. Kitts and Dominica delegations at the meeting.
A major topic for the meeting was the legalization of Cannabis in Canada and the implication therein for workers currently working on Cannabis farms, also noting that significant opportunities are earmarked in this segment of the Canadian Agricultural industry which shows strong growth potential.
This topic continued to be debated extensively at the 2018 Annual Review Meeting of the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program which also took place in St. Lucia, the week following the OECS review meeting.
At that meeting the OECS delegation joined Caricom colleagues from Barbados, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, also participating in the program. The Caricom delegation resolved that the Cannabis matter, including legalization and the participation of workers, continues to be debated in nationally and that clearer positions would be presented at the 2019 SAWP Annual Review Meeting. Both meetings ended well, having met their objectives.