As the end of the season approaches for the region’s agriculturalists, news arises of problems surrounding the area’s other transient farm labourers – foreign workers who are in the valley by way of an international agreement.
Even though this group shares common labour, their issues are completely different from those we have been hearing about amongst the Similkameen’s transient Canadian farm labour force.
There is a demand for the foreign labourers, as many farmers find that for the most part, foreign labourers are productive. And, because both parties are under contract, agriculturalists can count on this type of labour for the full growing season – they won’t find themselves short of labour because their workers suddenly decided to pull up stakes and leave town, as some farmers have experienced with other forms of migratory labour.
In the case of the region’s Mexican workers, of which there are several hundred, it appears that these contract workers are for the most part at the mercy of their employers once they arrive here in B.C. Most of them do not speak English; they have no access to motorized transportation, and rely to a great degree on the ethical character of their employer to treat them according to their contractual obligations while they are here. If their situation is being abused in any way, they seem to have very limited means to get assistance. Fear of being cast as a troublemaker, or of losing their jobs is adding to the problem, as some abuses apparently go unreported.
The benefits of the foreign agricultural workers program is mutual. If reports of certain abuses within the system are occurring, it is imperative that the parties who are administering the program do some investigating and take corrective measures if necessary. These workers are in a position that could be described as marginalized; we have a duty as a modern, world leading democracy to look out for their welfare while they are here.
There is also the prospect that failure to ensure that contractual obligations are being fulfilled could also be damaging to the nation’s reputation on an international scale.