Farm workers accommodations: who is responsible?

Practical solutions to migrant workers needs don’t have to be expensive

 

We live in a time where everything around us is changing rapidly almost too fast to keep up! Our lives become dictated by the technology which moves faster than we do, however is essential to keep up with the times. Although you might see farming as a low key, back to the land operation, on the surface it  is far from that, and has been effected by the times as well.

I mention this because back in the day, many orchards were run quite differently, with government subsides to help the farmer gain an edge in their market. After NAFTA came into play, these subsidies had to be replaced with incentive strategies such as Agri-invest etc.

Today the markets are very competitive and the farm operation must produce high quality food and run on a tight budget to maximize its profits if one wants to stay in the game.

The farms also had the advantage of hiring the local folks along with the young students of the day to help bring in the harvest. Yes, they closed the schools so that the able bodies could help with the harvest. We would never think of doing that today.

This brings me to talk about the labour force that we have come to rely on for pruning, planting in the spring and harvesting at present. Since there is a need, there is also an obligation to secure a labor pool for these tasks. Some larger farms secure workers before the work begins and have created accommodation, communal kitchens, showers and toilet facilities. Some of these larger farms have made arrangements with the government to hire Mexicans for several  month’s contract. This is all well and good for the larger farms what about the small farms five, 10 even 15 acre farms? They too need workers but for shorter periods of time. What facilities are the farmers willing to provide and if there is a campground, what part do they play in implementing this?

The mentality of some farmers is that they  feel they can’t afford these amenities on their farms and why should they, since other workers in other sectors of employment don’t have their employers provide them accommodations. The difference is this: First off, the farm workers are doing a dirty job and in some cases are exposed to pesticides, manure etc.They have a need to get clean each and every day. Secondly, the workers are hired for short periods of time and have no guarantee of any continued work on that particular farm. These uncertainties create a very limited cash flow for some of the workers as well as having the necessity to move on to the next town to follow, say,  the cherry crop.

When you have a situation like this, it is only right to provide a makeshift facility to secure a workforce for your crop. The cherry crop is a prime example of the need to bring in many more people for a short time period; after 10 days the crop is picked and the farmer will not need those people any longer and they will have to move on to another crop/ farm. With uncertainty of this type of job and the low wages, the farm worker relies on the next farmer to provide a place for them. Some farm workers bounce from one farm to the next within a month’s time, if they are fortunate to line up work one day to the next. The unstable nature of the job is cause for the farmer to rethink his obligation for these people. These jobs are part-time, temporary, seasonal and unpredictable due to weather/climate changes. Given all the variables how can they provide for themselves in any given season?

Having said this, I believe the individual farmers need to step up to the plate and take responsibility for their workers. They need outsiders to help with the work and these workers need a decent place to camp on their property until the farmer does not need them any longer. The length of time for their stay depends on the farmers crops and needs etc. If the farmer has a labor pool willing to come here and put the effort in, then they should provide for them.

Now some might say it will cost a fortune. I beg to differ. The accommodations don’t have to be the state of the art – think simple. A small second hand travel trailer which has propane stove, refrigerator, a sink –  not necessarily with running water but water available and a drainage for grey water which would suffice for cooking. A hot water, on – demand outdoor shower works great as long as you provide water and propane. You can pick one up from a tree planter contractor second hand for a $400-$600 one time expense. A simple outhouse would work as well. If the farmer would invest in these basic facilities they will not have a problem securing a work force. I know first hand, as I provided these amenities for my small orchard. All these are tax deductible expenses to the farmer.

A campground in our area done right will take at least a year to put together, if we start now. It will cost a great deal of money to implement and maintain, and it will most likely come from the RDOS. There is no guarantee that the outside element from the Lower Mainland won’t come around again and be a part of the campers making a bad name for the true farm workers. There is also no way the farm workers will stay away from Keremeos if it is relocated to Cawston. I believe if the farmer provides basic facilities we will be better off  in this valley in creating a more harmonious agricultural partnership with workers/farmer and in the long run with the municipality. I would like to see the Mnistry of Agriculture collaborate with the provincial government to help the farmer with these facilities by applying an incentive through a tax break or subsidy for those farmers that provide amenities for their workers as well monitor and enforce hygienic standards for the workers on these farms.

 

It has long been felt that the itinerant work force be segregated from the rest of he population. It is high time we incorporate our workers into the fabric of our industry/town as some farmers already have done to their benefit with this train of thought. We are all interdependent for our livelihoods – why not provide what is needed to make this the best place to live and work.

 

 

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