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Los Angeles: Agricultural workers in the United States who live in dormitories and work near each other, without protective masks to secure food for the country, are at risk of contracting the emerging coronavirus, but they have no other choice but to work for pay.
About 2.4 million men and women work in agricultural fields in the United States, where three-quarters of the population currently live in health isolation. But their work is “essential” along the lines of nurses, police, firefighters and food store staff.
Non-governmental organizations concerned with their destiny affirm that it is “harsh work and harsh living conditions”. Half of the country’s agricultural workers are foreigners in an irregular situation, mostly from Latin America. They spend hours collecting vegetables and fruits in the cold or in the hot sun and their only hope is to get a salary.
Some of them live in complexes that can include up to two hundred workers in poor health conditions, while others live in apartments that are crowded with three or four families. They usually travel on buses crowded with passengers, all of which contribute to the rapid spread of the virus. The absence of social security makes access to health care more difficult for those without legal residence permits.
Trade unions and associations warn of the conditions of these workers who are not only at risk of developing COFED-19, but have not received any information about the means of transmission of the virus or methods of prevention, nor have they received equipment to prevent the disease.
Eric Nicholson, vice president of “United Farmer Workers of America”, the largest guild of agricultural workers in the United States, noted that “they often go to work with fever, cough and any other symptoms of Covid-19”.
“Their daily reality boils down to the fact that if they do not work, they will not be paid, and if they do not get paid, they have no other means to support their families and pay the rent of their housing,” he told AFP.
What would happen if the epidemic wiped out agricultural workers? “If they are put on a bus and one of them is infected, they will be eliminated from the workforce,” said David Steele, director of the Agricultural Research Institute at Pomona University.
“If ten, twenty, or thirty percent of the workers are absent, this will lead to a huge problem in supplying” with food.
Even California, which is the US farm and where agriculture makes up about five percent of gross domestic product (three times larger than France), does not even dare to think of this possibility.
“Agricultural workers are a vital component” of the state’s food supply, “said Steve Lyle, a spokesman for the California Department of Agriculture. For social spacing in fields and on production lines. ”
Some California plantation owners have adapted their procedures to reduce the risk of infection, as Eileen Brookow did in her orchards in the Ventura region.
“Our goal is to ensure the safety of our employees so that they can continue to work, unless they are sick or have to stay home to care for children or sick,” she told a local newspaper.
But employers are not equally cautious, said affiliates of the United Farmers Workers’ Union of America, most of whom have received neither information nor guidance on the emerging corona virus. One of the workers told Univision television that he believed “we are the most vulnerable and we are forgotten.”
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