The Penticton and Area Outreach Centre hired Sandy Diaz-Hart as a rural advocacy outreach worker. She is part of a team that provides assistance and services to marginalized people in the region’s rural areas. Funding for the past two years has provided Diaz-Hart with part time work – 12 hours per week – to perform the services, but she volunteers much more time than that because of her passion for the foreign workers cause.
“Our job is also to help inform the community of the problems faced by these people,” said Penticton Women’s Centre Coordinator Bernadette Otto.
“The farmworkers issue – both foreign and domestic -is a perennial one. We are concerned about the fact that these temporary farmworkers are expected to pick fruit all day, and not given an opportunity to even wash their hands before lunch. They have no means to maintain cleanliness. These are community issues – including such things as lack of accommodation. If workers arrive in the area to harvest cherries, and they are late, what do they do with their time? Where do they stay, during the periods where there is no work?”
The women’s centre receives funding from various foundation grants and anonymous donations.
“We really have to inform the federal and provincial governments as to what the issues are – we need a study to show them what is happening,” she said, noting that communities tend to be silent on the issue.
“The federal government, who run the foreign workers program, need to be accountable, inspecting the conditions that the workers face,” she added.
For regional communities affected by transient labour issues, the transient issues tend to be seasonal in nature, which is a problem in itself. Problems begin with the arrival of the workers in the spring, peaking in late August and early September, diminishing with the departure of the workers after harvest. The issue is then largely forgotten until the following spring, when the cycle begins all over again.
Otto expressed a desire to meet with other local interest groups and governments with the purpose of working towards a solution to migratory workers’ issues.