KELOWNA - Changes to temporary farm worker housing were deferred by council at Tuesday night’s public hearing.
The decision to defer the bylaw amendment means it will go back to first reading where council can again make adjustments to the bylaw.
Up for discussion at the May 2 public hearing were changes made to the bylaws aimed at streamlining the process for smaller farms to house their workers.
Currently, if a farmer wants to house staff on the property, they have to apply to city staff and go before council once, but no public hearing is required. The proposed adjustments to the bylaw would mean any farm with 40 workers or more would have to go to a public hearing.
However, council members said they would support increasing that threshold.
“I’m okay with extending the number of workers,” Mayor Colin Basran said. “I’m fine with 60 workers being the trigger for a public hearing.”
Additionally, the proposed amendments would restrict providing housing for workers to eight months of the year. However by the end of the hearing, Basran said he would support extending this amount of time.
“In terms of occupation I’m open to 10 months in order to allow staggered starts and different sets of workers,” he said.
A common theme amongst those who spoke at the hearing was addressing the lack of communication from the city and local agriculture industry.
“The farming community is a part of the community at large, there’s no them and us,” Fred Steele, president of B.C. Fruit Growers’ Association said. “I ask that we be given an opportunity to work with city staff and think of a plan that is mutual for all of us.”
However for local resident Norm Melnichuk, the sheer number of people working on one given farm is an issue.
“I’m against the required offset farmers have to house workers. There’s about 140 workers that will be living on the property next to mine - just 10 feet away,” he said. “I’m okay with the tractors and even the helicopters that come to get the water off the fruit, but that sheer number of people living on one property is too much.”
An alternate proposal brought forward surrounding the number of allotted workers was having one worker per acre.
“The majority of cherries exported from Canada come from the Okanagan Valley, it’s intensive work that needs a lot of labour,” Sukhpal Bal, B.C. Cherry Association president said. “I see a lot of trouble brewing as this is designed right now.”
Another concern mentioned was the lack of regulations surrounding domestic workers.
“We have a diverse collection of situations when it comes to farming in Kelowna,” Christine Dendy of Dendy Orchards said. “Not all farms hire foreign workers.”
The bylaw amendments will now go back to first reading, where further discussion and amendments can occur.
For past stories on temporary farm worker housing click here.
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