Wages for piece rate farm workers are scheduled to increase next week for the first time since the fall of 2017.
The increase – coming Jan. 1 – is part of a provincial raise to a group of “alternate minimum wage earners” which also includes liquor servers, resident caretakers, live-in camp leaders and live-in home-support workers
Some Richmond farmers explained to the Richmond News when the raise was announced in April that the 11.5 per cent increase to piece rates – the same rate of increase made to the general minimum wage in June 2018 – may mean farmers will have to raise the price of produce.
“It’s just one more that’s going to make agriculture just that much more expensive,” Bill Zylmans, owner of W&A Farms told the News in April. “Our food pricing is going to increase just because of all the things coming around whether it’s labour, whether its gasoline.”
Piece rate farmworkers refer to fruit and vegetable pickers being paid by weight of the produce they pick rather than an hourly or salaried rate.
In a provincial consultation with farm owners, the Fair Wages Commission, which advises the government on how to raise minimum wages, found that employers preferred the piece work system because it provided an incentive to their workers as they had the potential to earn more than minimum wage.
Some workers’ advocate groups say they would prefer to see the piece work system abolished, citing long work hours, poor housing and few to no workers’ rights as some of the conditions fruit pickers face.
“I’m glad that they will see a much-needed raise but these are some of our most marginalized workers and they deserve at least the same basic floor as any other worker in our province,” said Trish Garner, community organizer of the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition in a press release.
“We will continue to call for no exemptions to the minimum wage.”
In B.C., piece rates are set for 15 different crops, including many products enjoyed over the holidays, such as brussels sprouts, mushrooms, apples, peas, grapes and green beans.
All other farm workers who are not paid by piece rate must be paid at least the provincial minimum wage. Here are the set piece rate increases in effect on Jan. 1.