Arts & Life
Canstar Community News
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This article was published 17/5/2011 (3372 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
SEASONAL farm workers in the flood zone's vegetable patch might not be sent back to Mexico.
Initially, the deliberate breach of the Assiniboine River dike near Hoop and Holler Bend on Saturday was expected to wipe out the crops.
Now, things are looking up.
"If they don't have to open the cut more, I'll probably be needing more of the workers come July," said Doug Connery, whose farm has 26 Mexicans now harvesting asparagus.
Late last week, he delayed the arrival of more farm workers from Mexico because of the POOR late-spring weather and concern about the planned dike breach near his farm.
On Monday night, seven Jamaican workers arrived at Connery's farm and 83 labourers could be hired by the peak of the season, he said. Up to now, the farm has paid some of the workers to sandbag homes as well as cut asparagus.
Connery isn't sure how other vegetable farms in the flood zone are faring, though.
Not good, says the organization representing seasonal agricultural workers. It's trying to make sure the workers get paid while they're here, even if crops are ruined and they don't have work.
"Under the seasonal agricultural workers' contract, the workers are to receive 40 hours a week and are now getting zero," said Stan Raper, the national co-ordinator for the Agricultural Workers Alliance in Toronto.
"We're trying to at least get for them the minimum compensation for being in Canada -- at least the 40 hours (a week) they are supposed to be getting," said Gustavo Mejicanos, co-ordinator of the Agricultural Workers Alliance in Portage la Prairie.
The Mexicans came to Manitoba to work in good faith, giving up seasonal work opportunities elsewhere, Mejicanos said.
The government, which purposely flooded farmland to fight the flood, should compensate farmers for compensating Mexican workers unable to work as a result, he said.
"Their main source of income is coming to Canada," Mejicanos said. "I spoke with some of them Sunday."
He said there are about 80 workers in the flood zone.
Historically, there are 400 to 500 on vegetable farms in the area in the peak employment period.
Mejicanos fears many of them with jobs lined up here will be out of luck or will have to go back to Mexico empty-handed because of the flooding.
"This year, they're not going to have any income. They'll have nothing for the season. They depend on the savings from what they make during their season here."
Mejicanos said the $15,000 to $20,000 they earn in a season will support their families in Mexico for a full year.
"Cutting asparagus and harvesting green onions, they spend long hours on their knees and it's extremely painful."
In Toronto, Raper said seasonal workers with no farm work to do could be put to work helping to build and shore up dikes in the area.
"If the province needs some bodies, they're sitting there," Raper said. "And it's not because they don't want to work.
"These are unusual circumstances. Something should be done to assist these workers."
Carol Sanders’ reporting on newcomers to Canada has made international headlines, earned national recognition but most importantly it’s shared the local stories of the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home.
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