Okanagan migrant justice collective fights for temporary foreign worker

Keeno was deported after reporting mistreatment

A Kelowna-based migrant justice collective is rallying behind a seasonal agricultural worker who they say risked it all to speak out against employer mistreatment.

A man identified only as Keeno travelled from his home in Jamaica to work and live on a fruit farm in the Central Okanagan. He claims he soon began being mistreated and overworked, so he reported the incidents to the organization Radical Action with Migrants in Agriculture. Once that became known, Keeno was deported and is struggling to find a new job in Jamaica.

“This happens so often. These workers are mistreated. He came forward and risked it all and he was barred from the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program,” Luis Diaz, a RAMA member, said.

Related: Large farm worker housing plan set for approval

The SAWP program ties temporary foreign workers to their employer for eight months, and during that time they are not allowed to work for other employer in Canada.

“This makes them extremely vulnerable, and puts them in a position different than any other employee in Canada,” Susana Cuxaj, assistant professor and researcher at UBC Okanagan said.

“He has taken a huge economic and personal risk himself trying to claim what is wrong.”

Related: Temporary ‘slums’ discussed in West Kelowna

Now RAMA is taking legal action on Keeno’s behalf.

RAMA would not share the specifics incidences or the legal action being taken to not identify the farm owner, or compromise the legal proceedings.

They instead generally spoke about what they have seen in several of the cases they work with each year.

They say workers have been subjected to a multitude of poor working conditions; the workers are forced to work for “weeks on end with no overtime or days off, inadequate training, exposure to pesticides and are often paid late.”

In some cases, workers are not given enough hours and go into debt left waiting for the hours promised to them.

“We are fighting for someone that can’t even stay afloat right now. We are trying to do so much but it’s hard in a sense that there is not much hope for change unless something changes with the current laws in place,” Dominica Patterson, a volunteer at RAMA and undergraduate student at UBC Okanagan said.

Related: West Kelowna looks to better housing for farm workers

“His rights were violated, and when he stuck up for them, he was punished. Keeno only sought to provide financial support for his family, but instead he was forced into an impossible choice: his dignity or his livelihood,” reads the GoFundMe page Patterson started to support Keeno and his family.

Patterson says the money raised will go toward building a greenhouse in Jamaica, where Keeno can grow produce to feed his family and generate income.

Edit—

Information about how the money will be used in regards covering possible legal fees has been removed after Dominica Patterson clarified the information she gave in an interview with the Kelowna Capital News with other members of RAMA.

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