Churches pledge support for migrant Caribbean workers

Geneva (ENI) Two church groups with membership in North America and the Caribbean have pledged to work to improve the lives of migrant Caribbean workers, according to officials.

“Seasonal agricultural workers from the Caribbean are subjected to second-class living and working conditions,” said the Rev. Yvette Noble-Bloomfield, Cayman Islands-based regional vice-president for the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC). “Churches in North America and the Caribbean plan to bring pressure on governments and businesses to change that.” The commitment was made at a meeting of the North American and Caribbean Area Council of the WCRC and the Council for World Mission’s Caribbean and North America Council for Mission. The assembly was held in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic Sept. 24-30.

In an interview with ENInews, Noble-Bloomfield said that in the Dominican Republic, up to a dozen Haitian sugar cane workers can be found living in houses 10 feet by 14 feet. In the Southern United States, tomato pickers from the Caribbean say they are locked inside their trailers overnight.

“These are not the same conditions in which seasonal agricultural workers from the host country live,” said Noble-Bloomfield. Church representatives plan to press for improved working and living conditions by bringing pressure to bear on governments in Canada, the United States and Caribbean and on workers’ unions and conglomerates of farm owners.

Existing church programs for migrants include support for a summer chaplain to Caribbean fruit pickers in southern Canada. The joint project of the United Church of Canada and the United Church of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands provides a Jamaican chaplain for fruit pickers in the Niagara and Simcoe regions of Ontario.

In the Dominican Republic, the Dominican Evangelical Church is working with Haitian sugar cane cutters in the Batey area. The church supports a pastor and offers loans for small business start-ups. The business ventures are mainly run by women whose husbands are cane pickers to supplement family income.

Noble-Bloomfield said the contrast between conditions in the neighbouring Boca Rica tourist area and those in Batey is shocking. “Tourists don’t see this community of cane cutters yet it is only minutes from the upscale resort area,” she said.

(Kristine Greenaway is executive secretary for communications with the World Communion of Reformed Churches)