File Photo .(Lisa VanderVelde/Morning Star)

Okanagan orchardists asked to watch for ‘radical labour activists’

“The radical activists may impersonate government officials…”

Okanagan fruit farmers have been warned that there’s a new threat aimed at disrupting peak season operations.

In a newsletter sent out by the BC Fruit Grower Association to its members, the organization notes that this summer, beginning immediately, growers should “anticipate that radical labour activists will trespass and sneak onto your farm to disrupt your business.”

“These activists wish to identify and even create problems with Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program workers on your farm,” reads the alert.

To address this potential threat, growers and managers should ask unknown visitors for photo ID to verify their identity.

READ MORE: HOUSING FOR FARM WORKERS SCRUTINIZED

“We have requested government agencies to provide us with samples of their official government id so that you may know when a legitimate officer of the government is asking access to your farm or records,” the newsletter reads.

“The radical activists may impersonate government officials, so please take your time record and look at the identification. If uncertain, ask the visitor to arrange for their supervisor to call you immediately before proceeding to admit the visitor to the farm.”

It is up to farmers to determine when or how visitors are able to enter the farm due to food safety and biosecurity risks, the BCFGA adds.

“During non-working hours, visitors may be invited by the worker into their residence, but they still must sign in for Food Safety and Biosecurity reasons,” the alert continues.

In response to the BCFGA newsletter, a group called RAMA Okanagan sent out a response.

They identify themselves as a community-based, volunteer-led group that supports migrant workers.

“We do this work because we see glaring gaps in the supports that workers have access to in the Okanagan, and many workers fall through the cracks. We support workers who have been denied pay, punished unfairly, suffered abuses, been injured on the job, and been deported for trying to assert the rights to which they are entitled,” reads the letter from RAMA.

“The claim that migrant worker activists wish to ‘disrupt farm business’ is not only false, it also does not make sense: it would be counterproductive to the work of RAMA and other migrant justice organizations. RAMA seeks to build relationships with farmworkers and community members, and to provide support and advocacy for them while they are working in Canada.”

They go on to say that disrupting the operations of their workplaces just for the sake of doing so would result in disrupting the livelihoods of workers and putting their employment at risk.

“It would jeopardize trust between our organization and farmworkers. Our work is guided by what farmworkers want and need, and unless farmworkers inform us of gross violations and ask us to intervene in order to preserve their health and safety, there would be no reason for us to involve ourselves in farm businesses at all,” reads the letter from RAMA.

“If operations are following regulations, there is no cause to be worried about being disrupted. We recognize that farmworkers want these jobs. We aim to make the conditions safer and fairer.”

Thousands of Mexicans and Caribbeans head to Okanagan farms to work each summer. They make the same wages as Canadian counterparts for the time that they are in the valley.

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