Tracking technology causing anxiety, fear among foreign workers: advocates
Labour advocates are raising concerns over technology used to track the productivity of temporary foreign workers on B.C. farms, saying the tactics are causing undue pressure on the seasonal employees.
“It is a privacy issue,” said Raul Gatica of the Migrant Workers Dignity Association, which represents seasonal agricultural workers.
Gatica says workers have to use wearable GPS monitors that track how often they work, how fast they work and where they are. Some even monitor how long they take to use the bathroom.
Tracking devices include screens placed at the end of each row of crops that workers have to sign in and out of. There is also a barcode scanning system that tracks where each employee is and how much crop they were able to harvest on any given day.
“(The farms) have been pushing the workers to do more and more, faster and faster and faster,” he said.
The workers are hired directly by the farms. That means that if a worker rejects a tracking scheme, they could be out of a job and lose their work visa, forcing them to leave the country.
But a spokesperson for the growers says this technology is simply intended to make farms more efficient.
“It’s all computer controlled and this is just another information gathering tool,” said Linda Delli Santi of the BC Greenhouse Growers Association.
Employees’ locations are monitored in a variety of industries such as taxi apps that show the cab travelling toward the customer, delivery companies that track their vehicles using GPS and even pizza delivery.
All of these are legal as long as the surveillance serves a business purpose and the workers giver their consent.
But because the foreign workers at B.C. farms risk being sent home, Gatica says no one will speak up if there is something wrong.
“They fell pressured, they feel spied (on), they get insecurity and they feel fear,” he said.
Gatica wants the program to change so that workers can demand better conditions.
Canada’s Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program brings in more than 20,000 people from Central America each year to harvest Canadian crops.
Workers usually stay for eight months at a time. Most are supporting their families abroad.
With a report from CTV Vancouver’s Jon Woodward