To the Editor:
In November of 2009 the Village of Keremeos and a group of concerned citizens got together to look at the issue of transient farmworkers camping in their municipal parks. This “problem” had been an ongoing issue since the agricultural industry needed help from workers outside the community at least for the past 20 years; during this time, it could be stated that marginal efforts were put forth by the municipalities, government, or the industry to address this issue in the Keremeos area.
Due to concern, a non profit society was formed and a temporary campground was proposed by Doe Gregoire to give a safe and clean environment to the workers arriving into the area before being hired and in between jobs. For the most part it has been a success, with the assistance of the BCFGA, Village of Keremeos, RDOS Areas “B” and “G” contributions as well as some individual farmers, businesses and citizens within the valley.
Having said this, with the limited funding and with a temporary site, the living conditions in the camp are antiquated and only provide minimal services such as porta potties, garbage pick up, a few picnic tables and half metal barrels with welded grates dug into the ground for cooking and warmth. Drinking water is only available from a faucet about a quarter mile away from the camp. Additional concerns include that Keremeos has no hot showers available for them or anyone needing a shower coming into the area, except the facilities at the pool. The lone laundry mat is opened sporadically with cold water only and no dryers! While the recreation center has shower stalls, there is no plumbing and remains unused since its conception (approx. 15 yrs or more) and no one can say why this is!
These conditions are not very welcoming to this vital work force; some have even questioned why our government would subsidize wages and provide better conditions to Mexican workers and not their own citizens. The contract between the farmer and the Mexican workers provides a suitable cabin with all the amenities for cooking, bedding and showers, and transportation of some kind with the understanding they are to work six months of the season. The Mexican workers deserve this treatment, and I am not debating that. What I am suggesting is that perhaps the government should give equitable support and rights to workers within our country as well as their jobs are being compromised with the influx of these new workers.
In our humble opinion, our society is strongly urging the Ministry of Agriculture, regional districts, municipalities or any other service groups to have a look at the present conditions of our seasonal workers more closely. Perhaps between all of these groups a better solution, and at the very least, better communication, can be facilitated to bring about fair living and working conditions for a sector that is an integral part of our agricultural economy.
Submitted respectfully by Doe Gregoire, Chair of Directors, Similkameen Farmworkers Campground Society