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

Theatre SKAM is offering mobile, pop-up performances to Greater Victoria residents once again this summer. They’ll feature emerging artists Yasmin D’Oshun, Courtney Crawford, Kaelan Bain and Kendra Bidwell (left to right). (Courtesy of Theatre SKAM)
Theatre performances can be ordered to Greater Victoria front yards this summer

Theatre SKAM offering mobile, pop-up performances once again

Diana Durrand and Arlene Nesbitt celebrate the new artist space in 2014. Gage Gallery moves this summer from Oak Bay to Bastion Square in Victoria. (Black Press Media file photo)
Gage Gallery moving to Bastion Square

Vivid Connections, a showcase by Laura Feeleus and Elizabeth Carefoot, opens new venue June 29

Gwen Spencer Hethey with her uncle and mentor Major Frederick Richardson. (Courtesy of Greater Victoria Sports Hall of Fame)
‘She was a killer’: The Victoria woman who pioneered female sharpshooting

Gwen Spencer Hethey made military men ‘look like turkeys’ says her son

Days after students’ return to Victoria High School was delayed by a year, the province has announced some amenities that will be included in the school’s expansion project. (Photo by Cole Descoteau)
Child-care spots, artificial turf field, non-profit space included in Vic High expansion

SD61 now aims to welcome students back at the high school by September 2023

Anita Troop officially turns 100 on Sunday and cards are pouring in from around the world. (Courtesy Marina Miller)
Cards roll in from around the world for West Shore 100 year old

About 100 cards have come for the woman who turns 100 on Sunday

A small pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins pass by close to shore in Campbell River June 16, 2021. Still capture from video courtesy of Kimberly Hart
VIDEO: Dolphin sunset captured from Vancouver Island shore

Spectacular setting for view of travelling pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins

A North Vancouver man was arrested Friday and three police officers were injured after a 10-person broke out at English Bay on June 19, 2021. (Youtube/Screen grab)
Man arrested, 3 police injured during 10-person brawl at Vancouver beach

The arrest was captured on video by bystanders, many of whom heckled the officers as they struggled with the handcuffed man

Patrick O’Brien, a 75-year-old fisherman, went missing near Port Angeles Thursday evening. (Courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard)
Search for lost fisherman near Victoria suspended, U.S. Coast Guard says

The 75-year-old man was reported missing Thursday evening

Bruce Springsteen performs at the 13th annual Stand Up For Heroes benefit concert in support of the Bob Woodruff Foundation in New York on Nov. 4, 2019. (Greg Allen/Invision/AP)
Canadians who got AstraZeneca shot can now see ‘Springsteen on Broadway’

B.C. mayor David Screech who received his second AstraZeneca dose last week can now attend the show

New research suggests wolves can be steered away from the endangered caribou herds they prey on by making the man-made trails they use to hunt harder to move along. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Culling cutlines, not B.C. wolves, key to preserving caribou herds: researcher

The government has turned to killing hundreds of wolves in an effort to keep caribou around

Gary Abbott (left) and Louis De Jaeger were two of the organizers for the 2014 Spirit of the People Powwow in Chilliwack. Monday, June 21, 2021 is Indigenous Peoples Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of June 20 to 26

Indigenous Peoples Day, Take Your Dog to Work Day, Onion Rings Day all coming up this week

Central Okanagan Grade 12 grads are set to get $500 each after a more than $1 million donation from a Kelowna couple. (File photo)
B.C. couple donating $500 to every Grade 12 student in the Okanagan

Anonymous donors identified as Kelowna entrepreneurs Lance and Tammy Torgerson

Rita Coolidge played the main stage at Vancouver Island Musicfest in 2017. (Black Press file photo)
This year’s Vancouver Island MusicFest to virtually showcase beauty of Comox Valley

Returning July 9 through 11 with more than 25 hours of music performances

Most Read