Changes Needed to Protect Farm Workers, Study Says

June 26, 2008 - News Release

A University of Guelph sociology professor is part of a team of researchers suggesting sweeping policy changes to protect farm workers - especially immigrant and temporary migrant workers - in Western Canada.

Kerry Preibisch helped author a new study on farm work in British Columbia that reveals systemic violations of employment standards and regulations, including poor and dangerous working conditions and lax government enforcement.

“Farm workers should enjoy the same rights and protections as workers in other sectors,” said Preibisch, who studies international labour migration and the rise of temporary migration programs in high-income countries.

“We can support agriculture in Canada in ways that do not involve exploiting the workforce on which the industry depends.”

She added that although the study focuses on British Columbia, it’s relevant nationwide. In fact, “while our research found problems in B.C., farm workers in that province are free to join a union and collectively bargain, a fundamental right denied to farm workers in Ontario.”

The study, released last week, is part of the Economic Security Project, a joint initiative of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and Simon Fraser University funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.

Researchers interviewed workers and government officials, and conducted surveys and reviews of other jurisdictions. Among the study's key findings:

• Farm workers are routinely exposed to pesticides, gases used for ripening in greenhouses and other chemicals without appropriate gear or training;

• Migrant workers are often housed in substandard conditions, are not allowed to choose who they will work for and cannot stand up for their rights without fear of being sent home;

• Immigrant workers are regularly transported in vehicles that violate safety regulations.

• Health and safety standards are routinely violated, including lack of washroom and hand-washing facilities;

• Participants work 10 to 12 hours a day, six to seven days a week, earning on average $8 an hour with no overtime pay; and

• Inspection reports by Worksafe B.C. have decreased 62 per cent since 2001, and prevention orders have dropped 74 per cent.

The researchers make numerous recommendations for improvements, ranging from restoring basic employment standards for farm workers to restructuring the national Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP) to having government agencies co-ordinate efforts to establish and enforce decent living and working conditions.

"Improving the working and living conditions for farm workers, immigrant and migrant alike, is not just a human rights issue but is also a food safety issue,” Preibisch said. “When farm workers’ health and safety are at risk, so is the safety of the food we eat.”

In 2003, Preibisch collaborated on a first-ever evaluation of Canada's SAWP, which at the time had been around for 37 years. She will head to Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C., this Friday to present the strengths and weaknesses of the national agricultural program to American academics and policy-makers. Two weeks ago, she participated in a panel on the same subject at the Ford Foundation in New York City.

Prof. Kerry Preibisch
Department of Sociology and Anthropology
519 830-0040

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, 519-824-4120, Ext. 53338/, or Deirdre Healey, Ext. 56982/

University of Guelph
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