Proposed farm worker changes met with unfavourable reaction

The city's unveiling of proposed changes to the Temporary Farm Worker Housing policy is getting a mixed reaction.

The President of the BC Cherry Association says his organization wasn't consulted by staff, who are recommending that on-site accomodation for farm workers be restricted to 40 people, no matter the size of the farm.

Sukhpal Bal says that plan isn't realistic.

"Staff told councillors that beyond the 40 workers, farmers can look to urban areas to house their workers. But it kind of stopped there, there was no idea of how they can be housed in urban areas," he said.

"Because in the middle of the summer (when) we need 30 or 40 people housed in town, I don't see us finding that many basement suites close by."

Bal says if there were other resources in place, like temporary dorm-like housing, that would make more sense.

"That is the idea, I think, that needs to be there when you're limiting what's going to happen on the farm," he said.

"That's where the proposal is not complete - they're cutting one side and then not having a reasonable alternative that you can house them in."

Councillor Brad Sieben says that while logistics might need to be changed, limiting farm worker housing is a still a discussion that's needed.

"There does come a point from a city perspective, at least from my perspective, that when you need 200-300 - I don't know what the number is - but when you need that many people, is housing them all in trailers, for lack of a better word, is that appropriate when it becomes almost a small town?" he said.

"At some point, I think you have to look into proper sanitary facilities and proper amenities for the workers to actually go to a store, and I think those ideas can't be disqualified. You start looking a little more creatively - is there a way that you can have industry-led, government support on all different levels - to kind of have a look at 'Can we come up with a better solution that's better for the farmers?'"

The proposals were advanced by council on Monday, which Sieben points out is only the first step in the process, as the issue will eventually get to a public hearing, where farmers can come and share their opinions.

"At some point, it will go through for a public hearing where people can jam the gallery. It doesn't necessarily mean, moving it forward (Monday), makes it a done deal. It's just one step in the process," he said.

"And certainly we need to hear from the agricultural community on what their thoughts are, before we put anything in stone."

City staff say they consulted with the BC Fruit Growers Association and provincial reps, as well as officials from Mexico and Jamaica.