Farmworker victim's families appeal for support
Published Saturday, April 18, 2009 6:34PM PDT
Relatives of farm workers killed and injured in B.C. are banding together to ask the province for changes they feel will make life better for farm workers.
The group delivered a letter Saturday to B.C.'s labour minister Iain Black requesting -- among other things -- a ban on 15-seat passenger vans and guaranteed equality in employment standards.
The family of Phuong Lee knows all too well about tragedy in the workplace. Lee's life was changed forever last September when her husband Michael Phan was overcome by noxious fumes on a Langley mushroom farm. He is still in a coma. Three others died.
"Very, very hard for my family," Lee said.
"There's no more happiness, no more dad to run to for help, there's no daddy to take me to go sightseeing to go to parks," Phan's daughter Tracey said.
Jagjeet Sidhu is part of the group campaigning for action. His wife Sarbjit was one of three farm workers who died when an overloaded van heading to a Fraser Valley greenhouse flipped over on Highway 1 in March 2007. Fourteen others were injured.
"I want my children to know this work we are doing is in the memory of their mother," Sidhu said.
In December, the van's driver Harwinderpal Gill was banned from driving for one year and fined $2,000.
The letter to minister Iain Black also asks for the coroner's office to set an inquest date in the van crash case.
Jim Sinclair, the president of the B.C. Federation of Labour, is calling for a public inquiry into working conditions throughout the farming industry for what he sees as inequality for workers in the province.
"It's really clear what should happen here," Sinclair said. "What isn't clear is why the government is still dragging its feet and refusing to crack down and end the discrimination against farm workers and make their lives safe."
But Iain Black disagrees.
"It would be highly inappropriate for me or any other labour minister in this country to interfere with the politically independent arms length organizations like Worksafe BC, coroner's office and crown prosecutors," Black said. "Mr. Sinclair knows that too."
Black accuses the B.C. Federation of Labour of fear mongering.
"B.C. has the highest employment standards with respect to the agricultural industry in the country," Black said.
With a report from CTV British Columbia's Maria Weisgarber