The event was held at the Roma Club in Leamington, the location of many SAWP farming partners. This facilitated the attendance of approximately 300 farm workers, who welcomed the opportunity to celebrate the accomplishments of their peers.
SAWP falls under the umbrella of the Canada Temporary Foreign Workers Programme and is coordinated by the ECLS in close collaboration with OECS Ministries of Labour, the Canadian Government, and Employers in the Agriculture sector.
32 workers representing four OECS Member States were recognised for participating in the Programme for 15 or more years. The longest-running participant was William Esprit of the Commonwealth of Dominica, who was commended for an outstanding 33 years of dedicated service to the Programme.
In addition to the awards for dedicated service, all of the Leamington-based Employer Partners were presented with Certificates of Appreciation for their longstanding commitment to employing OECS workers. Three team members of the ECLS were also presented with longstanding service awards at the event, ranging from 16 to 29 years of service.
Worker Award recipient, Boniface Hippolyte, said that the SAWP provided him with a livelihood and improved his lifestyle over the past 15 years. “I feel very good, very proud. This program has helped me a lot. I help my mother back home; I was able to send my children to school."
Fellow worker Heth Stephens of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, who has been a part of the SAWP for nine years, praised the ECLS for its support of workers. “The ECLS service is excellent. There’s no time I’ve called them, and they haven’t done everything in their power to help me. They really try to care for us as workers.”
From the Employer Partners’ perspective, the ECLS is also fulfilling its mandate. Doug Balisilli of D&L Balisilli Farms reflected on the good relationship he has built with the ECLS during the 12 years his farm has been involved in the SAWP. “It has been a good move for us to be a partner in this Programme, we have nothing but positive feedback. The ECLS is great to work with and it is really nice of them to recognise us at this appreciation event.”
Head of the ECLS, Chief Liaison Officer Olaf Fontenelle, said the Worker Recognition and Employer Appreciation Event was initiated to celebrate the hard work and dedication of participating OECS farm labourers, and to acknowledge the impact on their home economies, as well as the Canadian Agricultural industry. Fontenelle urged the OECS workers present at the event to self-evaluate.
“Be the best workers in the Programme. Reflect and ask yourself if you’ve achieved what you came here to do. Are you saving each month? Are you saving towards your retirement?”
Fontenelle also noted that as the ECLS improves worker welfare and employer relations, it effectively raises its profile to be better positioned to secure additional resources to administer the OECS’ participation in SAWP – adding that a dedicated Liaison Officer to serve the Leamington area would be installed within the next year.
Head of the International Relations Unit at the OECS Commission, Ambassador Anthony Severin reinforced the Commission's strategic priority to reduce unemployment in Member States, pointing to the SAWP as a key means to achieve this goal.
“We readily acknowledge the tremendous contribution made by the Programme, and the workers in particular, to the economies of our Member States through the generation of employment and the infusion of repatriated earnings into the economies."
“We also believe in excellence, and the importance of acknowledging this; as well as the importance of just saying thanks, and so we are really excited and proud to be a part of this Worker Recognition and Employer Appreciation event.”
Minister for Labour in Saint Lucia, Hon. Stephenson King also addressed the gathering and highlighted the crucial role of the ECLS as the agency responsible for worker welfare and employer relations. Minister King praised the ECLS’ staff for their efficiency and efficacy.
“I think this event is a wonderful initiative as it gives the ECLS staff an opportunity to demonstrate appreciation to the workers, and also to the farmer employers for providing tremendous opportunities in human development as well as growing the economies of the respective islands.”
The Saint Lucia Labour Minister also noted that it is now up to the governments of the Member States to continue to invest into the infrastructure of the ECLS as this will allow additional Liaison Officers to be hired, thereby ensuring more focused attention on both workers and employers in Canada.
About the Eastern Caribbean Liaison Service:
The Eastern Caribbean Liaison Service (ECLS) is a Unit of the OECS Commission established to administer OECS Member State interests in the Canada/Caribbean Seasonal Agricultural Workers Programme (SAWP) in Canada. The SAWP was established in 1966 and was designed to address short-term labour shortages in the Canadian market. The OECS became an active participant in 1976. In the intervening period, thousands of workers have travelled to Canada under the programme, and many have become model ‘ambassadors’ for the Region.
The main objective of the ECLS is to contribute toward the reduction of unemployment in the OECS through the provision of employment opportunities in Canada for the nationals of those Member States which are participants in the SAWP, namely Antigua and Barbuda, the Commonwealth of Dominica, Grenada, Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.