With inflation at its highest rate since the 1980s, a higher cost of living is also inflating the notion of a so-called living wage.
Once pegged at $15 an hour, it’s now $16.75 in the agricultural heartland of the Fraser Valley and $18.49 in the Okanagan.
BC made good on the recommendation of the Fair Wages Commission to raise the base wage all workers receive above $15 an hour last year, and now inflation is pushing it higher once again.
The province announced this week that the minimum wage will rise to $15.65 on June 1, a 2.8% increase over last year. The increase is linked to the province’s inflation rate.
Hand harvesters will see their wages rise by a similar percentage come January 1, 2023. The delay reflects the province’s desire to give farm operations time to prepare for the increase rather than instituting the change mid-season.
Piece rates are paid for the harvesting of 15 commodities in BC, including daffodils, mushrooms, berries and tree fruits.
But the province has yet to make any large-scale changes to the piece rate system, which remains largely unchanged since the province implemented it in 1981.
The province commissioned a report in 2018 designed to give it the data it needed to overhaul the system and ensure workers received proper compensation for their work. According to comments provided to the Fair Wages Commission, the system was exploitative and even racist.
But the report, published in 2019, found 90% of growers supported the existing system. Moreover, while blueberry harvesters were the least likely to receive minimum wage when paid piece rates, these growers would also be hurt most by any increase in their piece rate to match minimum wage.
“We have been taking an in-depth look at how to ensure compensation is fair for farm workers, sustainable for farm operators and economically viable for the industry,” the BC Ministry of Labour told Country Life of BC in a statement, noting that it is in discussions with the agriculture ministry. “By updating the piece rates on these crops, we will ensure that farm workers are paid a fair wage for the valuable work they do. We will have more to share as the Ministry continues its work on the piece rate crops.”