British Columbia is well-known for its abundant blueberries, apples and cherries. But many workers who pick these crops are paid a “piece-rate” wage that can promote an unsafe pace of work and may even be less than minimum wage.
Anelyse Weiler, one of the PhD candidates I supervise, recently penned an op-ed about the implications of the piece-rate wage with Mark Thompson (UBC Professor Emeritus) and David Fairey (Co-Chair of the BC Employment Standards Coalition). They call on the provincial government to implement the recommendations of the Fair Wages Commission and ensure that all workers receive at least minimum wage. This builds on a related op-ed Fairey and Weiler wrote for the Vancouver Sun on May Day.
Their op-ed was published in the Penticton Herald and Kelowna Courier, and was also on the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives BC blog.
A seasonal agricultural worker in a cherry packing plant. Photo: Elise Hjalmarson.
A crowded van picks up an elderly Punjabi grandmother. After a 45-minute unpaid ride to the farm, she picks blueberries in the hot sun for up to 10 hours with no overtime pay. If she slows down or takes too many breaks in the shade, the contractor may arbitrarily decide she hasn’t earned enough hours to qualify for EI to top up her sparse winter income. If the harvest is poor or her employer doesn’t record berry weights accurately, she often earns less than minimum wage.
No one would wish this on their grandmother.
Over the past couple of weeks, Anelyse Weiler, one of the PhD candidates I supervise, has published several pieces of public scholarship related to her research. The excerpt above is from an op-ed she co-authored with David Fairey in the Vancouver Sun on the sub-minimum piece-rate wage for hand harvesters in British Columbia.
Anelyse and Professor Amy Cohen of Okanagan College co-authored another op-ed analyzing how Canadian immigration policy makes racialized farm worker women vulnerable to sexual violence. It was initially published in The Conversation and has since been re-published elsewhere, including The National Post and The Tyee.
In the current labour-themed issue of Alberta Views Magazine, Anelyse reviewed Jason Foster’s new book Defying Expectations, which explores unlikely labour organizing successes of the United Food and Commercial Workers 401. She has also written a forthcoming book review of Good Apples for Food, Culture & Society and a commentary on migrant workers and the national food policy in Canadian Food Studies.