It’s said the measure of a society is how well it protects its most helpless members.
If that’s the case, we may not be measuring up too well when it comes to foreign workers brought in under the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program.
Recently, two Mexican workers on a Summerland farm had to be removed from the squalid living conditions their employer was supplying and transferred to another farm.
But their case is nothing new, nor are they likely to be the only foreign workers out there in similar straits. Similar news stories pop up with frightening regularity. And for these workers, it isn’t as easy as filing a complaint and having the situation fixed. Cut off from their support networks, in many cases not speaking English fluently, working 12 to 14 hour days and sometimes going for weeks without passing the farm gates, these workers may not be physically helpless, but certainly qualify as socially helpless.
The regulations for SAWP, which functions under a partnership agreement with Mexico and a number of smaller Caribbean countries, list a number of responsibilities for employers bringing in workers.
Everything from wage rates to travel and accommodations is covered. What’s missing is any enforcement of the regulations. Housing is to be checked before the employer’s application is processed, but there is no guarantee that same building will be the one the workers end up in, since there are no further checks on the worker’s well-being.
An advocate for these workers — in B.C. temporarily, but still paying taxes — is a necessity. Someone needs to be out there, checking on work and living conditions, lending a friendly ear and making sure the workers get the help they need.
Canada has a reputation of being a fair, welcoming country devoted to principles of social justice for all. Let’s try a little harder to live up to how the world sees us.