Building the Relationship Nets Loyalty
Hard times often build strong bonds. This is evident in the way that the Sumas prairie community rallied around each other through the flooding. It’s also apparent in the way many of the prairie’s farms and their foreign workers supported each other throughout the disaster.
Roughly 700 of the Fraser Valley’s Temporary Foreign Workers were impacted by the flooding. Like so many others, they helplessly watched the floodwater take their homes, possessions and in some cases jobs. Community support was available when needed but, in most cases, they were also able to count on their employers to look out for their well-being, while employers learned the extent of their workers loyalty through the events of last November.
Many temporary foreign workers in the dairy industry feel the same sense of responsibility for their farms as their bosses do. Even in the midst of a disaster, their focus was on keeping the cows fed and milked, trying their best to ignore the chaos around them. Clifford is one such case. He works on a farm on the east side of the prairie. While the farm was lucky to escape the most severe flooding, watching the water creep closer throughout the week was stressful. When his home and yard were overcome by water and he had to temporarily evacuate, his employer opened his own home for Clifford.
The events of that week were stressful but for Clifford, doing anything other than staying and helping wasn’t an option. He says “As a Filipino, in our tradition, we don’t leave our friends in a time of disaster, we just help.” His biggest fear was how they were going to save all the cows should the waters come. Along with others on the farm, he worked to prepare the farm as much as possible. At times when he became nervous, he knew he could count on his parents in the Philippines for some very practical encouragement. “My mom said don’t worry, you will be good – you know how to swim” he says laughing.
Like so many in the Sumas prairie, many foreign workers have lost a lot. The effects were felt by their families at home as well. Most Temporary Foreign Workers send a significant part of their income back home, meaning if they were unable to work, they weren’t unable to support those closest to them. The government has established temporary policies to help workers who lost status or documents because of the floods, but the disaster has also raised questions about how the program can be improved when a disaster such as this occurs. The reality is the most effective help will come directly from an understanding employer. If the employee and employer have the right relationship, they can get through an event like that in a mutually beneficial way. Looking back at the events, Clifford offers his perspective on how to best mange an event like that: “just keep working, keep doing your job and move on. And don’t ever forget to pray.”