Blueberry harvest in the Fraser Valley relies mainly on older Indo-Canadian workers provided through labour brokers. (Maple Ridge News)

Blueberry harvest in the Fraser Valley relies mainly on older Indo-Canadian workers provided through labour brokers. (Maple Ridge News)

B.C. ‘moving very cautiously’ on minimum wage for farm workers

Most workers support piece-rate pay for picking, survey says

As B.C.’s minimum wages rises to the highest of any province, $15.20 an hour effective June 1, the labour ministry is continuing to study the piece-rate pay for harvesting crops that was last increased two years ago.

The ministry commissioned a study, released in January 2019 as the piece rate was increased by 11.5 per cent for 15 crops grown in B.C. The survey by agriculture consultant Karen Taylor estimated that the increase added $7.7 million annually to the cost for harvesting, as all growers reported a shortage of labour that held back their expansion and explored ways to increase mechanical harvesting and employment of temporary foreign workers.

Labour Minister Harry Bains said Monday growers now pay by the hour for up to five of the 15 crops subject to the piece rate, and more information is needed to go further.

“We will be moving very cautiously because it is an area where we want to make sure that our agriculture industry continues to grow, with all the different challenges that they are facing, and at the same time the workers in the agriculture industry are also paid fair wages,” Bains said May 31.

Piece work is regulated in B.C. and mainly used by fruit growers in the Thompson-Okanagan and berry and vegetable growers in the Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley. Like previous studies, the 2019 report found some workers made less than the minimum hourly wage, with blueberry farms paying the lowest rates, and grapes and cherries paying the highest.

RELATED: Abbotsford grower looks to build worker apartments

RELATED: Ottawa funds COVID-19 quarantine for farm workers

RELATED: Aquilini berry farm ordered to pay more to workers

Taylor confirmed that the traditional pattern of B.C. hiring continues, with mostly older Indo-Canadian workers provided by labour brokers in the Fraser Valley and Lower Mainland, and younger migrant workers from Quebec the main source of summer labour in the Thompson-Okanagan. Temporary foreign workers from Mexico and Caribbean countries also harvest in B.C., with rates set by the federal government, and piece rate pay used as an incentive for productivity.

“Of 178 harvest workers in the Thompson-Okanagan region, 94 per cent reported that they prefer the piece rate, 53 per cent said they would make less money if they were paid the minimum hourly wage, and 87 per cent said they would stop being a harvest worker if they were only paid the minimum hourly wage,” Taylor’s report says.

Some farmers refuse to disclose pay information, for highly competitive markets such as mushrooms, and most face varying market prices they do not control.

“Additionally, working hours are often unrecorded, since payment is purely piece-based. In several cases, the data requested were either not available, not in a useful form, or were not disclosed,” the report states. “Due to gaps in the data and a low sample size for each of the sectors, the results of this study do not constitute a significant provincial representation of any crop.”


@tomfletcherbc
tfletcher@blackpress.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

AgricultureBC legislature

Just Posted

Rebecca Neudorf and Siddhartha Minhas express the joyful atmosphere of this year’s grad cavalcade. Photo: Bill Metcalfe
PHOTOS AND VIDEO: Nelson grads and proud parents celebrate a community milestone

Saturday’s cavalcade was graced with perfect weather

Forty sled dogs were seized by the BC SPCA from a Salmo kennel in February. A recent ruling has decided the dogs won’t be returned. Photo: Gounsil/Flickr
BC Farm Industry Review Board rules against Salmo kennel after 40 sled dogs seized

Spirit of the North Kennels was also ordered to pay BC SPCA $64,000

Protestors blocking Columbia Avenue Saturday evening. Photo: Betsy Kline
Old growth protesters block Castlegar’s main street for 24 hours

Members of Extinction Rebellion stayed overnight in downtown Castlegar

A bear-proof waste container at Lakeside Park. Not all garbage bins at the park are bear-proof. Photo: Tyler Harper
VIDEO: Bear observed eating from garbage bin in Lakeside Park

The City of Nelson is gradually adding bear-proof bins throughout the city

Nelson and District Chamber of Commerce executive director Tom Thomson. Photo: Tyler Harper
NEWS AND VIEWS: Businesses still need assistance even in a more normal summer

Tom Thomson writes about a new Nelson and District Chamber of Commerce initiative

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participates in a plenary session at the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, England on Friday June 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada donating 13M surplus COVID-19 vaccine doses to poor countries

Trudeau says the government will pay for 87 million shots to be distributed to poor countries

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Premier John Horgan speaks as provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, right, and health minister Adrian Dix look on during a press conference to update on the province’s fall pandemic preparedness plan during a press conference from the press theatre at Legislature in Victoria, Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. officials to provide details on Step 2 of COVID reopening plan Monday

Step 2 could allow for larger gatherings and a resumption of recreational travel

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller is seen during a news conference, Wednesday May 19, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Indigenous child-welfare battle heads to court despite calls for Ottawa to drop cases

Feds are poised to argue against two Canadian Human Rights Tribunal rulings

The Great Ogopogo Bathtub Race has been held in Summerland as a fundraising event. Do you know which Canadian city introduced this sport? (Black Press file photo)
QUIZ: A summer’s day at the water

How much do you know about boats, lakes and water?

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod laughs while playing with Lucky the puppy outside their Chilliwack home on Thursday, June 10, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: B.C. family finds ‘perfect’ puppy with limb difference for 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy has special bond with Lucky the puppy who was also born with limb difference

A million-dollar ticket was sold to an individual in Vernon from the Lotto Max draw Friday, June 11, 2021. (Photo courtesy of BCLC)
Lottery ticket worth $1 million sold in Vernon

One lucky individual holds one of 20 tickets worth $1 million from Friday’s Lotto Max draw

“65 years, I’ve carried the stories in my mind and live it every day,” says Jack Kruger. (Athena Bonneau)
‘Maybe this time they will listen’: Survivor shares stories from B.C. residential school

Jack Kruger, living in Syilx territory, wasn’t surprised by news of 215 children’s remains found on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School

Most Read