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Report shows gap between rules and reality for US farm workers

A new report that examines the conditions that farm workers face in the U.S. suggests systematic abuse of farm labour laws and regulations.

The report was jointly funded by the United Farm Workers (UFW) and Bon Appetit Management Company, a major food service provider in the U.S., with support from Oxfam America.

According to UFW, the report, titled Inventory of Farmworker Issues and Protections in the United States compiled and analysed data from state, federal and private sources and is the most comprehensive picture of this workforce.

"It's been our postiion at the labour organization that the laws here in the U.S., are inadequate," said UFW vice president Erik Nicholson. "That led us to do this unprecedented collaboration with Bon Appetit. We did an inventory of the top six states in the U.S. by farm worker population. . . California, Oregon, Washington, Texas, Florida, and North Carolina."

According to a 2006 report by the Ministry of Agriculture and Lands, B.C. meets only about half (46 per cent) of its food needs from within the province. The majority of its vegetables, in particular, are imported from outside of B.C., mostly California.

"In California, we have some of the better laws on the books to protect farm workers," said Nicholson. "But the saying around here is, the laws in the books are not the laws in the field.

"For example, there were 15 deaths of workers in the field in California due to the direct failure of employers to provide those workers with shade and water when the temperature reached over 100 degrees Fahrenheit."

Nicholson said he wasn't an expert in Canadian farm labour laws and regulations, but said both countries depend largely on immigrant labourers "that we're all too often willing to treat different than we would our own children, mothers or brothers."

Colleen Kimmett reports for The Tyee.

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