Migrant Farmhands Face Abysmal Working Conditions, Study Finds

Migrant farmhands face abysmal working conditions, study finds

The Canadian Press
June 19, 2008

VANCOUVER — Every spring for the past four years, Juan has come to British Columbia from Mexico to work on a farm.

The 38-year-old, who didn't want his real name used, says he knew the money was better in Canada but the working conditions didn't meet the high standards he had expected.

Juan says he worked 14-hour days, seven days a week and was allowed just two days off a month.

He said his freedom was limited and he was housed in a trailer shared with 12 other people.

“It was a bad experience,” said Juan, who came to Canada on an eight-month contract program that requires a minimum Grade 3 education. “It was very bad, the conditions for the house; there was no hot water.”

According to a study released yesterday by labour groups, Juan's story is not unique. The report, “Cultivating Farmworker Rights,” paints a grim picture of B.C.'s agricultural industry.

Done in part by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and the B.C. Federation of Labour, the study found that immigrant and migrant farm workers in B.C. lack health facilities, are exposed to unsafe working conditions and are paid inadequate wages.

Co-author Mark Thompson said he was shocked by the findings.

“We could almost describe this as Third World conditions right here in Canada,” said Prof. Thompson, of the Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia.

The report, which interviewed 28 immigrant and 25 migrant workers, found the average wage for an immigrant farm worker was $8.20 an hour.

It also found a lack of basic safety and hygiene.

The main complaint by immigrants who worked outside was the lack of sanitary facilities, such as bathrooms and running water, or a proper place to eat.

Workers also expressed safety concerns over exposure to pesticides and the vehicles that transport them to work.

In March, 2007, three female farm workers were killed in a van accident near Abbotsford. The driver was taking 16 women to work at a Chilliwack greenhouse.

A year later, B.C. Labour Minister Olga Ilich tabled legislation that allows the government to cancel or suspend a farm labour contractor's licence for safety violations.

The study found that housing currently offered to workers varies from adequate to “far below legal standards.”

Ms. Ilich called the study “slanted.”

Ms. Ilich said her ministry is doing more inspections and handing out more fines than it has in the past.