VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – Long-awaited improvements to the way temporary foreign agricultural workers are housed in Canada come into effect January 1st.
The changes come after workers over the years have complained about cramped and substandard accommodations.
Existing laws govern everything from how many workers can live within a certain space to how many washrooms have to be provided.
Byron Cruz with the Sanctuary Health Collective is hoping the more stringent inspections coming into effect improve conditions for workers.
“There have been inspections in the past. I feel that this time they will be more formal and enforceable, and that’s an important step.”
He says the inspection system is far from perfect. Cruz knows of cases where the employer knew inspectors were coming, brought in new appliances for the occasion, and then removed them once the inspectors were gone.
“The problem with the announced inspections is that the farmer gets ready for it and that’s good on one side, but the problem is that we have also witnessed that they tell the workers ‘Oh the inspectors are coming. We are ready for that we are going to be making some changes,’ and then in one of the farms they brought a new couch, and then they also brought a stove, a nice stove,” explains Cruz. “Then when the inspector came, everything was fine, the inspector saw the house, he was happy, he made his report. The next day after that the nice new couch was taken away again, and was put back into the owner’s house.”
Canadian farmers will now have to prove that the accommodations they provide for the foreign workers have been inspected and that all issues outlined during previous inspections have been addressed.
Still, Cruz says the changes don’t address all housing matters that surface.
“Workers are still living in cramped housing – like 15 to a house. We are seeing septic tanks located near the house, for example.”
About 10,000 foreign workers are employed in BC’s farm and fisheries sectors.
The foreign workers come predominantly from Mexico, but Cruz says an increasing number come from Guatemala. While many are here on a seasonal basis, some who work in commercial greenhouses are here for a two-year period.