Farm worker Gurman Dhillon harvesting strawberries in Surrey earlier this summer. Pickers are paid a minimum of 34 cents per pound for strawberries.

Minimum pay rates for farm pickers under review

Advocates urge switch to payment by hourly minimum wage

Lower Mainland berry pickers and other harvesters are being promised a provincial review of minimum wages for farm work won’t leave them earning less than they do now.

More than 10,000 pickers are paid piece-work rates based on how much they harvest.

Charan Gill, spokesman for Progressive Intercultural Community Services Society, said it appears the province ordered the review in response to complaints of farmers and contractors after indications the minimum piece rates would rise in lockstep with a series of planned increases in B.C.’s minimum wage.

“I have no faith they will be fair to the workers,” Gill said, adding the consultant Victoria has hired speaks no Punjabi and therefore won’t get a fair sense of most harvesters’ concerns.

A labour ministry spokesman said the review may guide any further increases in the piece rates but reducing them is “not under consideration.”

Minimum pay rates for pickers range from 16 cents per pound for Brussels sprouts to 40 cents for blueberries, while tree fruit fetches $17 to $20 per large bin.

Those rates climbed 9.4 per cent in May at the same time B.C.’s minimum wage rose to $8.75 an hour.

Gill said the rates typically work out to the equivalent of $4 or $5 an hour.

“We are saying there should be a living wage for the farm workers,” he said.

Gill argues the province should eliminate piece rates entirely in favour of hourly wages.

That would also help reform the current system, which critics say is rife with abuse of workers and corrupt accounting practices.

Farm contractors routinely pay pickers at piece rates but then convert the amounts to hourly pay on the books as if minimum wages had been paid.

That lets companies record an artificially low number of hours and avoid violating employment standards when pickers work long hours during harvest season.

Hours are sometimes later adjusted back upward so workers are credited the minimum number of hours to qualify for employment insurance. Employers sometimes demand kickbacks for such revisions.

Federal tax auditors have prosecuted dozens of Lower Mainland pickers before for EI fraud over their role in such schemes, although most employers have avoided punishment.

“There should be a total survey of the farm industry to clean up this thing,” Gill said.

B.C. Federation of Labour president Jim Sinclair said Ontario and Quebec both use a system that ensures a minimum wage for farm workers, while retaining a piece rate system that can can result in pickers being paid more.

“You get paid no less than minimum wage,” he said, adding B.C. should follow suit.

“The minimum wage for farm workers should be the minimum wage for everybody else.”

Sinclair noted Mexican farm workers here on temporary work permits must be paid minimum wage, adding it’s bizarre that permanent B.C. residents get treated worse.

The consultant handling the review is to report back by the end of October, just before the minimum wage rises another 75 cents on Nov. 1.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Summerland Steam lose twice in Junior B hockey action

Next action for Junior B hockey team is on Friday, Jan. 17 in Summerland

Summerland drama students to stage Matilda

Story by Roald Dahl will be presented at Centre Stage Theatre in February

Petition to install safety barriers on Hwy 97 garners over 500 supporters

Yesterday a fatal collision on Hwy 97 claimed the life of one individual

Scholarship receives funds from KIJHL

Launched in September, the scholarship is available to all KIJHL players

Summerland steam railway to mark 25th anniversary

Kettle Valley Steam Railway has received support from community

Older Canadians highlighted in Kelowna film project to fight ageism

The project is part of a campaign to combat ageism

Revelstoke already double last year’s snowfall

The city is just below halfway to the snowiest winter on record

True Stories: Okanagan memoir-writers, reading

Reading with local North Okanagan writers Art Dalton, Patti Shales Lefkos, Raven Dahl, Janelle Hardy

Kelowna’s last video store, Leo’s Videos, to remain open despite failed sale

Kelowna’s last video rental store will remain open and under its namesake’s ownership

Crown won’t appeal sentence in child sex assault case of former Burns Lake mayor

B.C. Prosecution Service said sentence doesn’t meet standard for appeal

Kelowna’s ‘Baby Mary’ finds biological parents after more than 30 years

Geneologist and DNA test helped her connect with her biological parents

Woman convicted in Salmon Arm love triangle murder granted escorted temporary absences

Monica Sikorski was 17 when she plotted shooting death of 22-year-old Tyler Myers

Oliver Health Centre celebrates expansion of ER

B.C.’s Minister of Health was in Oliver for the official opening of the improved emergency department

New book released on the untold Indigenous history of Revelstoke

Swift River is Laura Stovel’s fourth book

Most Read