B.C. fruit growers want government help for foreign farm workers
February 2, 2009 By The Canadian Press
February 2, 2009, Penticton, BC – The B.C. Fruit Growers’ Association
is looking for government help in improving conditions for foreign farm
February 2, 2009, Penticton, BC – The B.C. Fruit Growers’ Association is looking for government help in improving conditions for foreign farm workers.
Delegates to the association’s annual convention in Penticton have approved three resolutions regarding the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program, which was launched in 2004.
Last year saw close to 3,000 farm workers flown into British Columbia from Mexico, Guatemala and the Caribbean, with about one-third working on farms in the Okanagan.
The association wants the federal and provincial governments to establish a grant program for improved housing for seasonal farm workers, and for better sanitary facilities.
It also says employers shouldn’t be expected to pay return airfare for foreign workers who return home early for personal reasons.
The chairman of the association’s labour committee, David Geen says while the need for better washroom facilities is obvious for food-safety reasons, the industry doesn’t have enough capital right now to provide them for all orchards.
Geen says if growers can get a one-third grant, they might be better able to establish the washroom facilities, which could cost anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000 to build.
Co-operation from municipalities regarding sewage and other bylaws in rural areas also would be required.
The association notes Washington state has a program for farm-worker housing and something similar for B.C. orchards isn’t possible without government assistance.
Growers are also leery of efforts to unionize foreign workers brought in under the program.
The B.C. Agriculture Council has applied to the B.C. Labour Relations Board to disallow it since they are covered under a negotiated contract between the governments of Canada and Mexico.
A pilot project has also been proposed to bring temporary farm workers into British Columbia from India for one or two years but so far not enough interest has been shown in India to meet the minimum number of 150 workers for the project to proceed.
Unlike the Mexican program, those from India would be required to pay their own airfare to Canada. However, workers who return to India could then apply to immigrate to Canada.
Despite the current economic downturn, Geen doubts there will be a significant decrease in demand for foreign farm workers.
“The long-term history of local workers – meaning Canadian-born – wanting to work in the agriculture industry has never been very high,” he said.
The association represents some 950 fruit growers throughout the Okanagan, Similkameen and Creston valleys.
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