Essential Okanagan farm workers should have the same rights as citizens: activist group | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Essential Okanagan farm workers should have the same rights as citizens: activist group

Image Credit: (Bob Brawdy/The Tri-City Herald via AP, File)
September 17, 2020 - 6:00 PM

Despite being called temporary foreign workers, the thousands of people who are essential to getting the Okanagan fruit crop harvested each year are neither of those things.

That’s one of the messages the Radical Action with Migrants in Agriculture will try to get across when they drop banners over the railings of the Highway 97 pedestrian overpass in Kelowna tomorrow, Sept. 18.

“All temporary foreign workers deserve status upon arrival (in Canada) in recognition that they are not temporary and are not foreign,” group spokesperson Robyn Bunn told iNFOnews. “It’s also because temporary status prevents them from accessing their rights and benefits and also is part of the reason conditions on farms are, sometimes, exploitive and abusive because they can be seen as temporary and expendable.”

The banner drop is part of a national effort by a coalition of activist groups calling for: "Full and Permanent Immigration Status For All."

The national campaign encompasses a wide range of people living in Canada without immigration status, ranging from migrants and refugees to students and sex workers.

READ MORE: You can help these Mexican workers fired from a West Kelowna nursery

The Radical Action with Migrants group’s primary focus is on workers who, for the most part, are brought to Canada through a program that provides them visas that only allow them to stay a maximum of eight months in Canada.

While they’re referred to as foreign and temporary, Bunn argued that many of them have come to work in the Okanagan for up to 20 years so they are not temporary. Nor are they really foreign because they may live in Canada longer than they do in their home countries. Most come from Mexico.

They’re also essential to the Okanagan agriculture industry as has been demonstrated during COVID-19. Because fewer were able to come to the Okanagan this year, fruit growers are scrambling to get their harvests in.

And it’s not like the use of foreign workers is new to the industry.

There have been waves of immigration from different countries over the last 100 years and more. Many of those came as landed immigrants who worked their way up to become citizens, leaders of their communites and, now, owning many of today’s orchards and other businesses.

But that road to citizenship is blocked for all but a very few Mexicans. A fraction of the 4,500 who come most years get sponsored for citizenship. The rest are sent home.

Being given permanent immigration status would open many doors for them, according to the protest group.

“It would mean visas don’t have an end date,” Bunn said. “It means they are treated as permanent residents in all senses, meaning they get health care, they get access to benefits and all those kinds of things that permanent residents get. They can bring their families and they can become part of our community, if they choose to do that.”

The banner drop is scheduled for 4 p.m. tomorrow on the overpass between Parkinson Recreation Centre and the Landmark Centre.

It’s not a rally because the organizers are concerned about safe distancing but they will have brochures to hand out.

For more on Radical Action with Migrants in Agriculture go to their Facebook page here.

Radical Action speaks up for foreign workers on Okanagan farms and recently raised $9,000 helping Erika Zavala and Jesus Molinaafter who were fired from Bylands Nursery in West Kelowna after speaking to members of the activist group.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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