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Letter: Temporary farm workers contribute to Okanagan economy
To the editor:
As spring draws near, farms across the Okanagan Valley are preparing for the arrival of approximately 1,200 Latin American and Caribbean migrant farmworkers.
The vast majority of these men and women come from Mexico, with increasing numbers also traveling from Jamaica, Guatemala and Peru. They work in orchards, vineyards, ranches and nurseries, cultivating organic and conventional crops for local and global consumption in jobs that would otherwise go unfilled.
Most of these men and women are employed under Canada’s Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program, also known as the SAWP. Originally introduced in Ontario in 1966, the SAWP was implemented in BC in 2004.
According to the rules of SAWP, workers must live in housing provided by their employer. This housing is often on-farm, far from public transportation and urban centres, which leaves migrants isolated and immobile. Migrants’ work permits are also tied to a single employer. This means that they are not free to seek other jobs or housing if their living arrangement is poor or if they face workplace abuse. In addition, many workers do not speak English and so their engagement with the rest of the community is further limited.
The migrant men and women who work on Okanagan farms are integral members of our communities, deserving of our respect and of consultation on the decisions that affect their lives. They leave behind their families, their homes, and their businesses to work on Okanagan farms.
Many of these workers have been coming to Canada for decades, yet do not have the right to remain or bring their families.
They deserve the support of our communities in their struggle for rights and dignity. They deserve a path to permanent residency and the right to bring their families with them to Canada.
It is time we stop treating them as ‘temporary’ and recognize them for what they are—industrious members of our communities who contribute to our economic vitality and cultural diversity.
Elise Hahn & Amy Cohen,
Radical Action with Migrants in Agriculture (RAMA)