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Berry Bitter Harvest

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Indian Canadian berry pickers in farms outside Vancouver work in conditions reminiscent of John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, a Canadian Tax Court judge has ruled.

"When a 65-year-old grandmother leaves her village in India, travels nearly two days to Vancouver and is hired within a week by a labor contractor who transports her - at dawn and back at night - in a crowded van for up to eight hours a day so she can earn eight hours pay at minimum wage - or less if paid on piece rate - something is radically wrong with certain aspects of the federal family reunification program and also the berry and vegetable industry in British Columbia," Dwayne Rowe, a Tax Court of Canada judge, said in a ruling.

The judge was ruling on an appeal by 75 berry pickers, all Indians, on employment insurance benefits against S & S Harvesting Ltd., in which many workers presented graphic tales of their exploitation as new immigrants by the company. Judge Rowe said the company's owner Surjit Randhawa exercised "Svengali-like control" over his employees, who treated him as "a god-like figure who had to be obeyed." 

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Odds & Ends | Magazine | May 2008

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