Rotten apples in the barrel

More needs to be done to deal with the conditions faced by fruit pickers

A sector of the agricultural business community under the auspices of the B.C. Fruit Growers Association and the RDOS threaten the industry’s livelihood, by the lack of care and concern in their mistreatment of fruit pickers who assist the growers and the overall regional community economy, by not providing housing or camping.

Seventeen years ago we pulled together as a community to address the transient pickers issue. The media was ablaze with discourse. What sparked the issue was the disruption and displacement of a confined tribe of homeless seasonal migrant workers temporarily squatting in Hobo Alley near the Yacht Club in Penticton; where traditionally since the Great Depression sub-cultures camped and moved on. Under force and threat of violence, this out-of-the-way contained transient community was dispersed. This coercive approach resulted in young people relocating to sleep on roofs, parks and beaches, residential property and vacant lots.

Regrettably, Barry Reid’s Leisure Services office became a metaphorical “call centre”. Fortunately, through understanding and concerned citizens speaking out, a committee formed by the powers that be listened to taxpayers, and with input from invited youth on board, viable solutions were found and implemented.

The solutions were as follows: A few undesirables were bused by the RCMP to Anarchist Mountain. Wholesome middle-class youth were recognized for their inexpensive approach to their summer holidays until they returned to school. Some pickers felt a need to show the community they were responsible and, not long-haired hippy yahoos as perceived, volunteered to fight the Garnet fire, while committed fruit pickers were given picker shacks or allowed to live in tents and camp out on orchard land.

Now the issue has resurfaced. Pickers are protesting living/working conditions. A few orchardists have eroded the symbiotic relationship put in place by community leaders and employment hosts/parental figures fostering a climate of extended family. As already evident, by creating discontent, these heartless “fruit barons” jeopardize the possibility of our seasonal migrant labour force, comprised of English, Spanish, and French-speaking youth, from returning.

Orchardists complained this summer there was a lack of pickers. Word of mouth regarding mistreatment travels fast. There will be fewer pickers coming to the valley next summer. Profit centric orchardists risk the chance of having fruit rot on their trees, while more considerate employers will continue to benefit from the prosperity of community.

James Iwasuk