Farm Workers Issue Revisited

Doe Gregoire of Cawston revisits the transient campground issue


It has been a while since I have written anything concerning the farm worker housing issue. Let me start by saying this is a reoccurring phenomenon which has existed for the past 30 years or more, ever since the farmer began to bring in help from outside the valley – and we are still trying to find solutions. I will try and bring forward the different ideas which have been tried and discussed in the past as well as some ideas for the future. I hope this sheds some light and some inspiration to those who are willing to look at this situation once again.

For many years I have wondered what it would be like to create a campground for the many workers who come into the valley. I had imagined that it would be a place for newly arriving workers to have a safe sanctuary for a few days before they could find a job and have a place to stay in between jobs. When the Keremeos community complained about the workers camping at Pine Park  I took it upon myself to establish one on Crown land further down the river with some help from the Keremeos municipality, Regional District Okanagan Similkameen  Areas “B” and “G”,  the BCFruit Growers Assocoation, local societies and individuals who donated time and money towards this endeavour.

Here is what I have learned from running it for two seasons:

The campground allowed many farmers to shirk their responsibility of housing their workers. I provided a camp so they felt they didn’t have to provide anything at all, or little provisions.

It created a place for those undesirables (ones who are not workers) to come to the camp and set up their own camp within a camp. These individuals were found to be disruptive and aggressive within the camp, stealing from the “farm workers” and making a bad image for the legitimate worker within the community. There is no way to distinguish the difference between the farm workers and these undesirables by appearance

Without the proper facilities such as potable water, showers, etc., it was difficult to get a lease on the land (within Area “G”) Without this in place the squatters felt they had control over the camp and made it difficult for me to have any such policing in effect.

There is a provision for squatters’ rights which the RCMP provided a copy where by a person may camp on crown land for two weeks.

Once established the campsite was turned into a party destination with people coming from all over the Okanagan, leaving the porta potties filled to the brim and extra garbage in and around the dumpsters which I provided for the camp, all to be dealt with by the meager funds available. The minimum fee of $1/night was ignored by these party goers.

These and many other issues brought me to conclude that a campground does not address the issue of housing for farm workers.

I have come to realize that the Farm worker situation could be alleviated if a few things were done:

– If a contract for temporary Canadian workers,  a contract similar to the foreign workers contract where by the farmer must provide housing, showers, and cooking facilities for these workers as well the workers are committed for whatever time frame the two parties agree upon.

– Make available a six month contract and a short term contract for those Canadian workers as well, similar to the foreign workers contract.

Both the Industry and the Fed Government could work on this contract for implementation and give incentive tax breaks to the farmers.

The agricultural industry could help promote this within its realm through their memberships etc..

This system would give all farm workers an even playing field. It would help the farmer to bring in extra workers for the cherries, apples and grapes, which is sorely needed for short periods of time. The foreign workers and Canadian workers who have the six month contracts would stay in place and the temporary short term workers could feel secure in their surroundings on the farm as well.

Along with the YWCA employment service I propose to create an interactive website which matches up the farm worker with the farmer’s needs for employment. They both would register, answer some pertinent questions then contacts could be made initially through the site whereby the farm worker and farmer can be interviewed online or by phone. The farm workers could be in any part of the world while searching for a job and establishing a secure placing before they come to the valley.

Setting up a job with proper housing would bring the agricultural industry into the 21st Century. There would be no need for a farmworkers campground at this point. The website would cost considerably less than the many employment offices scattered throughout the province. I have visited the website that the B.C. government has established, and it is not updated enough, nor is it  interactive.

There is a program in place which some of the farmers engage in as well WWOOF (Willing Workers of Organic Farms) in which people who are travelling around the world who want to have a working vacation registers on the site as does the host/farmer. The traveller sets up an itinerary according to the placements on these sites, this way they have a definite destination which will provide them a place to stay with meals for exchange of work on the farms. When the traveler is ready to move on they can stay at a hostel or move on to the next WWOOF placement.

Accommodations for farm workers don’t have to be elaborate, the farmer can establish a hot water on demand unit with a simple wooden structure outside for a shower and a small travel trailer could provide a cooking facility. I have printed out plans for the shower – if anyone wants a copy, please send your request to: Doe Gregoire

These initiatives would bring the work force of a multimillion dollar industry into the civilized world. The conditions for workers would upgrade from third world conditions to modern times, isn’t it about time that Canada bring this industry into the 21st century?

– By Doe Gregoire