An Armstrong group has expressed concerns about the well-being of migrant farmworkers in the Okanagan during an unprecedented heat wave after being told by one head of a crew, ‘We are miserable.’
Radical Action with Migrants in Agriculture (RAMA) said farmworkers are retreating to housing unequipped to withstand the record-breaking temperatures.
A cool space to rest, says the group, is essential to avoiding heat stress, exhaustion and workplace accidents or injuries.
“We have visited migrant housing across the valley this week and indoor heat levels are unbearable,” said RAMA’s Robyn Bunn. “Very few workers have access to what they need to survive this heat wave, such as fans, AC units, cold water, or ice — anything that would provide some relief from the intense heat.”
RAMA is urgently seeking donations of electric fans, hats, sunscreen, electrolytes, and basic food provisions. They are also accepting monetary donations which can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The communities and agricultural economy are dependent on the approximate 5,000 migrant workers, primarily from Latin America and the Caribbean, to do the difficult, physically demanding work which most local residents reject.
These farmworkers typically work outdoors in direct sunlight during the hottest months year. In their bunkhouses, many have difficulty sleeping, RAMA said, due to high temperatures which could increase their risk of heat exposure.
Last week’s temperatures reaching up to 44 C increased the risk to dangerous levels.
Many employers have modified workers’ schedules to beat the heat. Start times range between midnight and 3 a.m. with shifts often ending before noon.
“Some workers have even been given a few days off,” said Elise Hjalmarson of RAMA. “But they are still overheating. They tell us that they feel faint, that some of them are running out of food while they wait for their next paycheques, and that they haven’t seen their employers for days. They’re not sleeping and worried about returning to work unrested.”
Workers are keenly aware of their precarious status in Canada.
They urge RAMA not to reach out to their employers, fearing they will lose their jobs or that speaking out will reflect badly upon workers from their country. As non-citizens, research shows that migrant farmworkers frequently work through injuries and illnesses to appease supervisors and to mitigate any risk of their being sent home.
Without the support they need from their employers, who are responsible for the provision of farmworker housing, RAMA and other community groups are taking action.
Over the past week, RAMA organizers have gathered donations of fans and funds to buy emergency provisions and delivered them to farms throughout the Central and North Okanagan.
“We’ve been buying up supplies as quickly as we can — we even cleaned out a couple of stores of their electric fans,” said Bunn. “And the requests from workers keep pouring in.”
Providing workers with safe, comfortable, and cool spaces where they can recuperate after a hard day of physical labour in the sun is essential for migrant workers’ well-being and safety on the job.
“Are their employers suffering through these same conditions?’ asks Bunn. “We know many of them work the orchards alongside their workers. But when they go home, do they have what they need to cool down and sleep at night or rest in the day? Because these farmworkers do not.
“We are urging employers, please, do more than give your workers the day off.”