Foreign farm help take issue with housing

Substandard living conditions appears to be a common concern amongst Similkameen’s imported farm help

Members of the Mexican Farmworkers community gather at the Elem Tabernacle last Wednesday

Members of the Mexican Farmworkers community gather at the Elem Tabernacle last Wednesday

On Wednesday evenings, members of the local Mexican foreign workers community gather at the Elem Tabernacle where Penticton and Area Outreach Centre’s Sandy Diaz-Hart hosts a social evening and English lesson session.

Last Wednesday, several Mexican workers offered some comment on their work experiences in Canada. At least two issues – housing and the regular issue of pay cheques – appeared to be on the minds of several of the workers.

Ramone Holguin had one season on a Cawston farm that he found disagreeable. He commented on poor treatment received at the hands of the employer, who, he said, yelled at the workers constantly and pushed them all the time. The biggest issues were substandard housing and paycheques that came late.

“He would always make a big deal about transporting us into town for groceries,” Holguin commented, “and he swore at the six of us constantly.” Holguin worked one summer in Alliston, Ontario, and spent two summers, including this one, on a farm in Cawston where he is treated equitably. He continues to be harassed when on the street,  he said, by his former employer, who farms a nearby property.

Marco Luna has spent the last two years at a farm in the Keremeos area, and says he is “quite happy” there. Six Mexicans work on the farm, where they are housed in two trailers, three in each. He indicated that housing could be improved upon.

Jose Sanchez has spent the past four years on the same farm.

“Living quarters is good,” he said, noting that he purchased  a vehicle that he has been able to leave on the farm between seasons.

Another worker, who wished not to be named, felt his housing situation could be improved upon. He was in a trailer with no heat, and was finding the nights to be increasingly uncomfortable. He also experienced late pay and difficulty getting laundry done.

Diaz-Hart explained that since the workers wire their pay back to Mexico to their families (they are all married) getting paid on time was critical because of the difficulties encountered in the Similkameen in wiring funds to Mexico.

 

Many of the workers use a service provided by Jany Lopez, an Oliver resident who recently set up a Mexican grocery store in the Okanagan town.  In addition to providing the workers with their traditional foods, she also found a way to make wire transfers to Mexico at a much better rate than the competition – in some cases saving the labourers up to 300 pesos.

“That’s the equivalent of three day’s work in Mexico,” she explained. “ I must collect their money before I can make the transfers, and if they aren’t paid on time, they are unable to provide me with the funds.” Lopez makes weekly trips through the Lower Similkameen, selling food, phone cards, and other things the Mexican workers require through a mobile store she set up. She also provides the service in Osoyoos, and Okanagan Falls, in addition to sales at the Penticton Farmers Market.