ICT for Health (Education)

Monday, November 14, 2005

"Farm Workers: Are They Really Protected When Working in the Fields?" (New Mexico)

At a bookstore last night, I was browsing through the pages of Censored and happened upon a 2003 article with the same title as this post (by Ruben Nuñez, Olga Pedroza & Kitty Richards). I found some of the same information on the NMPHA site. Here's an excerpt:

Advocates working with farm workers relayed their experiences to professional public health workers and community residents at the New Mexico Public Health Association Meeting held in Albuquerque on April 8, 2003. They focused on farm workers working in the fields of the Mesilla and Rincon valleys. These two valleys produce the majority of agricultural goods for New Mexico, and are referred to as New Mexico’s agricultural belt.

Olga Pedroza, managing attorney with New Mexico Legal Aid, reported that farm workers have shorter life spans and suffer from many health problems because of their employment in the fields and their poverty. Olga Pedroza states, “The farm workers show me their arms, covered with red blotches caused by the pesticides that they handle.” Farm workers are unable to access health care for their families because they do not have health insurance or the money to pay the small fee charged by the clinics.

Farm workers work in the extreme heat of Southern New Mexico, up to 110 degrees on some summer days. They are constantly bending over because they are asked to hand weed the fields. Although short hoes have been outlawed, hand weeding is legal. Some farm workers, instructed by the labor contractors to apply toxic pesticides without protective gear, are unaware of the serious health risks that may result.

According to Ruben Nunez, a former farm worker who is now working with the Colonias Development Council, “Our bosses referred to pesticides as medicine for the plants. Because medicines cured us of our illnesses, we thought that pesticides were good for us. We did not know that handling pesticides was dangerous.” The Worker Protection Standard law, enacted by Congress in 1995, requires that farm workers attend worker protection training and become certified prior to working in the fields. Ruben Nunez states, “I was responsible for educating my fellow farm workers on the effects from pesticides. Unfortunately, the training only lasted from 30 to 45 minutes and did not begin to provide information on all of the different pesticides that we handled. After the mandatory training, the workers received their certificate, a necessity for work in the fields.”

Some of the fields do not have portable toilets, even though this is an illegal practice. When a portable toilet is located in the fields, it is often filthy and located in a distant part of the farm. Although there may be drinking water, there are often no cups to drink from, or there is one community cup provided for everyone. These unsanitary conditions contribute to infectious diseases, dehydration, and bladder infections when workers, who do not want to travel the long distance to the portable toilet because of the time taken away from work, decide to forego water so that they don’t have to urinate. Farm workers are hesitant to complain about their working conditions because they fear deportation or the loss of their only source of income, if fired due to retaliation.


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