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Seventeen farm workers were in this van on Wednesday when it flipped on Highway 1 near Abbotsford. RCMP said the van was designed for 10 people, but the seats had been replaced with wooden benches. ((CBC))

Families of three female farm workers killed in a van accident in B.C.'s Fraser Valley this week called onthe province on Saturday to ensure workersget safer transportation to prevent similar deaths.

Relatives of the three women said at a public meeting in Surrey that the provincial government should reinstate random and surprise inspections of vehicles that transport farm workers.

Seventeen farm workers werein a van on Wednesday when the van flipped on Highway 1 near Abbotsford, east of Vancouver. The accident injured 14 people.

RCMP said the van was designed for 10 people, but the regular seats had been replaced with wooden benches. Not all of the passengers were wearing seatbelts.

ParjmjitGill, whose sister-in-law Sarbjit Kaur Sidhu died in the accident, said the safety of farm workers should be a priority for the province.

"I'd like you all to feel what we have gone through and I think the system failed this time," he said at the meeting.

"We want to say that we should look at the system that allows these things to happen."

Darshan Singh Punia, whose wife Sukhvinder Kaur was killed in the crash, said the laws should be tougher.

"It happened to me, it can happen to anyone else," he said through a translator.

Charan Gill, a member of the Canadian Farm Workers Union, said the government needs to educate workers about their rights.

He also called on Victoria to reinstate ajoint enforcementteam that was used to target farm vehicles in roadside inspections until 1997.

Gillaccused labour contractors of telling their workers not to attend the meeting, which attracted only about 70 people.

NDP Leader Carole James said at the meeting that her party will make the safety of farm workers an issue in the provincial legislature. She said she agrees with the idea of random checks on farms vehicles to ensure they are safe.

Want inquest results enforced

Speakers at the meeting said the B.C. Liberal government is catering to the needs of farm labour contractors and notenforcing the rights of workers.

They insisted that recommendations from a coroner's inquest into a similar accident in July 2003 — when farm worker Mohinder Kaur Sunar died in the crash of a van transporting berry pickers— be implemented immediately.

The coroner's report recommendedthat a joint-enforcement teammade up ofthe RCMP, the motor vehicle branch of the B.C. Ministry of Transporation, the Workers' Compensation Board and theLabour Ministrybe reinstated.

Jim Sinclair, president of the B.C. Federation of Labour, said he plans to meet with B.C. Labour Minister Olga Illich to discuss the issue.


With files from the Canadian Press