A study of BC piece rates the BC Ministry of Labour commissioned in September 2018 has shown broad support for the existing system.
Published this week, the study found 90% of growers support the existing system whereby government sets rates for workers who pick fruit and vegetables. Workers in the Thompson-Okanagan region expressed 94% satisfaction with the piece rate, with 87% saying they wouldn’t be harvesters if paid the minimum wage.
However, the study also determined that berry pickers in the Fraser Valley often didn’t receive minimum wage. The situation was particularly acute in blueberries, where the study found, “harvest workers were making less than minimum wage in all cases.”
However, berries are the commodity that would also be hurt most by any increase in piece rates to ensure that workers receive at least minimum wage for their efforts.
The last increase in the minimum wage, in January 2019, added close to $8 million to labour costs for growers across the province. In the case of berry growers, the report said the increase would decrease profitability already hit by “declining production and margin levels over the past two years.”
BC Blueberry Council executive director Anju Gill is still reviewing the study findings but questions whether there was enough to data to draw conclusive statements about the industry. For this reason, she told Country Life in BC, the council has initiated a study of its own to fully understand the piece rate issue. They hope to have initial results of the study before next season.
A team led by independent consultant Karen Taylor surveyed workers and gathered data in fall 2018. The aim was to give government a better grasp of how workers experienced the piece rate system, which government staff have called “racist and abusive.” Previous reports had not done this, said the labour ministry, relying “heavily on employer information with little to no consultation with workers or worker advocates.”
The report will underpin any changes the province decides to make in piece rates.
Speaking with Country Life in BC this fall, labour minister Harry Bains said the ministry was still studying Taylor’s report, which it received in January – 11 months prior to its public release.