KELOWNA - A plan for temporary farm worker housing regulations was approved to move forward to public hearing after Monday afternoon’s council meeting.
Designated as one of four farm communities by the province, Kelowna farms need to adhere to Ministry of Agriculture guidelines.
The plan aims to reduce the overall footprint on the farms.
The new plan focuses on making it simpler for farm owners with fewer than 40 workers to apply for farm worker housing.
Instead of having to go through the entire council process and public hearing, farms with fewer than 40 workers will only come before council for one meeting. Other farms will still have to go through first and second council readings, as well as a public hearing.
Currently, more than 90 per cent of the 299 farms in Kelowna have fewer than 40 workers, according to the City.
For worker accommodation, the plan recommends using existing structures, or when necessary, non-permanent foundations.
Additionally, farm owners are able to provide temporary farm worker housing for eight months of the year. Previously, these eight months were specifically from March until October. However, due to different farm needs, this has been changed so any eight months of the year can be selected.
For example, wineries may need workers in January or February to prune the vines, however are also needed later on in the year to help with harvesting grapes.
The temporary worker residences must be vacant for the remaining four months, however city staff said the farmers are able to rent out vacant accommodation during the off-season.
According to the Mexican Consulate, 2,085 Mexican workers were hired by Okanagan farmers and another 707 were from Jamaica workers, according to the Jamaican Liaison Service.
Since presenting at the end of October 2016, city staff have consulted with the B.C. Fruit Growers Association, the Mexican Consulate, the Jamaican Liaison Service as well as the Ministry of Agriculture.
A concern presented by council was the amount of consultation between city staff and agricultural workers and farm owners.
“I still have questions and there’s still things I need to know, but I recognize some of the people I need to hear from would come to public hearing,” Coun. Charlie Hodge said. “It’s not clear how many farms we have in kelowna that will be impacted by this, and that’s a number I need to know.”
The only councillors to not support the proposal were Coun. Brad Sieben and Coun. Mohini Singh.
“It is my heartfelt suggestion that we defer this for a while,” Singh said. “We should call in an advisory committee, as there needs to be proper, solution orientated, consultation - this needs further clarity and discussion.”
The plan will come to public hearing on May 2.
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