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.

Just Posted

Kennedy, Cartier Roads could see upgrade in Kent’s next budget

Residents living and working on Kennedy Road wrote to complain about the dust from the gravel

Catholic church buys $7.5M equestrian facility in Abbotsford, plans ‘agri-retreat’ centre

Church hopes to grow crops, host students and others on Bradner property

Evacuation route out of Harrison inches forward

The District of Kent approved a nearly $19,000 proposal to look at three routes out of the village

Get a free sneak peek at modern ballet performance in Chilliwack

New ballet @giselle is putting the final touches on its show at the Chilliwack Cultural Centre

Police ask public’s help locating missing Hope woman

Penelope Leslie Lackey has not contacted her family since mid-June

Sts’ailes invites adults to become engaged in Halq’eméylem with new video series

‘Qw’oqwel te Qw’oqwel’ gives language learners an immersive way to learn Halq’eméylem

New regulations require training for B.C. drug recovery homes

Inspections, standards replace ‘wild west,’ Minister Judy Darcy says

Pembina buying Kinder Morgan Canada and U.S. portion of Cochin pipeline

The deal also includes an Edmonton storage and terminal business and Vancouver Wharves

Trans Mountain gives contractors 30 days to get workers, supplies ready for pipeline

Crown corporation believes the expansion project could be in service by mid-2022

66% of B.C. residents want opt-out system for organ donation: poll

Support was lowest in Ontario and the Atlantic provinces

Teacher disciplined after bringing 45 grams of cannabis to Surrey school

Eugenio Bahamonde was also charged with trafficking in Vancouver, but later acquitted

B.C. rainbow crosswalk covered in mysterious black substance

Black substance spilled intentionally near Vancouver Island school and difficult to remove

New anti-drone tech deployed at Abbotsford Airshow

Operators could locate drones from up to 23 kilometres away

RCMP originally planned to arrest Meng Wanzhou on plane, defence lawyers say

The allegations have not been proven in court. Meng was arrested Dec. 1 at Vancouver airport at the behest of the U.S.

Most Read