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

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

Brandon Hobbs (turquoise shirt), brother of missing Abbotsford man Adam Hobbs, gathers with other family and friends to distribute posters in Chilliwack on Thursday, June 17, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Search efforts expand to Chilliwack and beyond for missing Abbotsford man

Family, friends put up posters in Chilliwack, Agassiz, Hope for missing 22-year-old Adam Hobbs

Pig races at the 147th annual Chilliwack Fair on Aug. 10, 2019. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Chilliwack Fair plans in-person event for 149th annual exhibition

Will be first large-scale, in-person event in over a year, provided regulations continue as planned

Vivian Le is one of two local recipients of a Beedie Luminaries scholarship.
Chilliwack students overcome adversity to win Beedie Luminaries scholarships

Sardis secondary’s Vivian Le and G.W. Graham’s Alisa Gusakova are among 112 students receiving money

Crews work on the construction of Stitó:s Lá:lém Totí:lt near the Vedder River on Thursday, April 1, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Chilliwack School District shuffling catchment areas as Stitó:s Lá:lém totí:lt construction continues

SD33 is looking for public input about proposed catchment and feeder school options

A CH-149 Cormorant from 442 Transport and Rescue Squadron out of CFB Comox on a training exercise in Chilliwack on June 16, 2021. (William Snow photo)
VIDEO: Military search and rescue training in Chilliwack Wednesday

CH-149 Cormorant and CC-115 Buffalo from CFB Comox participated in downed aircraft rescue simulation

People line up to get their COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre, Thursday, June 10, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Vaccines, low COVID case counts increase Father’s Day hope, but risk is still there

Expert says people will have to do their own risk calculus before popping in on Papa

FILE – A science class at L.A. Matheson Secondary in Surrey, B.C. on March 12, 2021. (Lauren Collins/Surrey Now Leader)
Teachers’ union wants more COVID transmission data as B.C. prepares for back-to-school

BCTF says that details will be important as province works on plan for September

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry outlines B.C.’s COVID-19 restart plan, May 25, 2021, including larger gatherings and a possible easing of mandatory masks on July 1. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. records 120 new COVID-19 cases, second vaccines accelerating

Lower Pfizer deliveries for early July, Moderna shipments up

A Heffley Creek peacock caught not one - but two - lifts on a logging truck this month. (Photo submitted)
Heffley Creek-area peacock hops logging trucks in search of love

Peacock hitched two lifts in the past month

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

The Calgary skyline is seen on Friday, Sept. 15, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
2 deaths from COVID-19 Delta variant in Alberta, 1 patient was fully immunized

Kerry Williamson with Alberta Health Services says the patients likely acquired the virus in the hospital

The first suspension bridge is the tallest in Canada, with a second suspension bridge just below it. The two are connected by a trail that’s just over 1 km. (Claire Palmer photo)
PHOTOS: The highest suspension bridges in Canada just opened in B.C.

The Skybridge in Golden allows visitors to take in views standing at 130 and 80 metres

BC Green Party leader and Cowichan Valley MLA Sonia Furstenau introduced a petition to the provincial legislature on Thursday calling for the end of old-growth logging in the province. (File photo)
BC Green leader Furstenau introduces old-growth logging petition

Party calls for the end of old-growth logging as protests in Fairy Creek continue

B.C. Premier John Horgan leaves his office for a news conference in the legislature rose garden, June 3, 2020. (B.C. government photo)
B.C. premier roasted for office budget, taxing COVID-19 benefits

Youth addiction law that triggered election hasn’t appeared

Most Read