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Thursday, October 06, 2011

Foreign workers speak out during police investigation

By Steve Arstad - Keremeos Review
Published: October 05, 2011

Part of the police investigation involving farm labourer Martin Hernandez included interviews with Mexican workers who provided the following statements. Sandy Diaz-Hart acted as interpreter for the police during the investigation.

A worker who was witness to Hernandez’ original accident, Ignacio Lopez, also witnessed his fall from the ladder.

“Martin eventually called Sandy because no one else would help him out,” Lopez said. He also stated that the workers were prohibited from asking anyone (helping the workers) to set foot on his property.

When asked if he was paying rent, Lopez replied that deductions of up to $550 per season were taken from the workers pay. He was under the impression that whoever the workers invited in to provide help was their right.

“I have been unhappy since I came here,” he continued, “the living conditions are so bad - nothing is being done about it.”

He also indicated that he was upset about the treatment they were receiving on the farm, and that he had had previous issues with the employer.

A second interview involving fellow worker Carlos Areaas revealed that although he did not witness the two accidents, he was in the vicinity.

He described the scene following Hernandez’ fall from the ladder. It appeared to him that Hernandez did not receive any assistance.

“The conflict started when Martin called the cousulate,” Areaas stated. “We are thankful for Sandy - she is the only one helping us.”

Areaas also had had heated exchanges with the employer, and had called the consulate himself in the past over another matter.

“He gets mad because we don’t speak English,” he answered to a question as to whether comments were directed at the workers were of a racial nature.

In describing the nature of the workers accommodations, Areaas described their situation as being four workers in a house with a stove that only had one working element.They slept on mattresses on the floor, there was no facility to do laundry, and the house was infested with ants and mice.

Next week: The Review speaks with other members of the foreign labour community, as well as other agriculturalists involved in the program. We also review the roles of the two federal agencies involved in the program.


Foreign workers program needs oversight

By Staff Writer - Keremeos Review
Published: October 05, 2011

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.

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