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

Construction work continues on the City of Nanaimo’s new Fire Station No. 1 on Fitzwilliam Street. (News Bulletin file)
Next phase of borrowing approved as Nanaimo fire hall construction ongoing

City of Nanaimo CAO says construction on Fitzwilliam Street hall on schedule and budget

Nanaimo Fire Rescue firefighters at the scene of a single-vehicle crash on Tenth Street near Southside Drive on Sunday, June 13. (Greg Sakaki/News Bulletin)
Driver OK after crashing vehicle off the side of Nanaimo’s Tenth Street

Crews say wet roads a factor a crash Sunday, June 13

Emergency crews on scene of a two-car crash at the intersection of Cranberry Avenue and the Trans-Canada Highway on Sunday, June 13. (Greg Sakaki/News Bulletin)
Crash blocks Cranberry intersection in Nanaimo, no one injured

Incident blocks both southbound lanes of Trans-Canada Highway

(PQB News file photo)
Fireworks report highlights enforcement challenges for Regional District of Nanaimo

Director: ‘I just think it’s wasting everybody’s time’

Nanaimo is the first city in Canada to subscribe to the Chonolog environment photo-monitoring system, which allow residents to contribute photos of habitat restoration projects that are converted to time lapse sequences showing environmental changes. (Chris Bush/ News Bulletin)
Nanaimo residents invited to be citizen scientists by sharing habitat restoration photos

Nanaimo first city in Canada to sign up for Chronolog environment photo monitoring service

Emergency crews on scene of a two-car crash at the intersection of Cranberry Avenue and the Trans-Canada Highway on Sunday, June 13. (Greg Sakaki/News Bulletin)
Crash blocks Cranberry intersection in Nanaimo, no one injured

Incident blocks both southbound lanes of Trans-Canada Highway

Cruise ship passengers arrive at Juneau, Alaska in 2018. Cruise lines have begun booking passengers for trips from Seattle to Alaska as early as this July, bypassing B.C. ports that are not allowed to have visitors until March 2022 under a Canadian COVID-19 restrictions. (Michael Penn/Juneau Empire)
B.C. doesn’t depend on U.S. law to attract cruise ships, Horgan says

Provinces to get update next week on Canada’s border closure

This undated photo provided by Girl Scouts of New Mexico Trails shows a scout donating cookies to firefighters in Rio Rancho, New Mexico, as part of the Hometown Heroes program. As the coronavirus pandemic wore into the spring selling season, many Girl Scout troops nixed their traditional cookie booths for safety reasons. That resulted in millions of boxes of unsold cookies. (Girl Scouts of New Mexico Trails via AP)
Thinner Mints: Girl Scouts have millions of unsold cookies

Since majority of cookies are sold in-person, pandemic made the shortfall expected

In this artist’s sketch, Nathaniel Veltman makes a video court appearance in London, Ont., on June 10, 2021 as Justice of the Peace Robert Seneshen (top left) and lawyer Alayna Jay look on. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Alexandra Newbould
Terror charges laid against London attack suspect

Crown says Nathaniel Veltman’s four counts of first-degree murder constitute an act of terrorism

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

Members of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ Marine Mammal Response Program rescued an adult humpback what that was entangled in commercial fishing gear in the waters off of Entrance Island on Thursday, June 10. (Photo courtesy Marine Mammal Response Program)
Rescuers free humpback ‘anchored’ down by prawn traps near Nanaimo

Department of Fisheries and Oceans responders spend hours untangling whale

A section of proposed Harbourfront Walkway between White Eagle Terrace and Battersea Road. (City of Nanaimo image)
Nanaimo’s proposed walkway extension project estimated at $25-30 million

City asking for feedback on concepts to connect Departure Bay Beach and ferry terminal

City of Nanaimo council has approved amendments for an animal control bylaw requested by the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations. The bylaw includes language related to quail. (Wikipedia Commons photo)
Province asks for tweaks to Nanaimo’s animal responsibility bylaw

Ministry concerned bylaw wording could create municipal and provincial jurisdictional overlaps

Nanaimo Regional General Hospital. (News Bulletin file)
Nanaimo hospital district seeks help from other districts for $1-billion project

Funding for Nanaimo Regional General Hospital patient tower discussed by committee

Most Read