The cost of running a farm, and the benefits of working on a farm, have both increased.
As of Jan. 1, minimum wage rose 11.5 per cent more on piece rates in British Columbia.
Under the previous piece rate, workers were already making an average of $15 to $35 per hour, according to BC Fruit Growers Association president Pinder Dhaliwal.
He said the increase to minimum wage is not easy for farmers to absorb as the price of their product is determined by the unpredictable market, and B.C. farmers are competing against growers from jurisdictions with lower minimum wages.
B.C.’s agricultural piece rates were last raised in September 2017. This month’s 11.5 per cent increase is equal to the rate of increase made to the general minimum wage in June 2018.
But Dhaliwal said it’s not just minimum wage that’s leaving farmers feeling pinched.
“Other inputs gone up. Chemical inputs, insurance have all gone up, five to 10 per cent,” he said. “It all adds up at the end.”
• Read more: BC Fruit Growers’ Association supports minimum wage
A commission is reviewing framework compensation to make sure it is both fair for workers and sustainable for farm operators.
“The independent Fair Wages Commission was established to advise government on an approach to raising provincial minimum wages with increases that are regular, measured and predictable,” reads a Ministry of Labour press release.
Even though farm work will be more lucrative for entry-level workers, Dhaliwal doesn’t expect the higher minimum wage to help with recruitment efforts in the South Okanagan. Since the experience of living and working in the mountains tends to attract large volumes of students from Quebec and Ontario every summer, the rate of pay isn’t necessarily the strongest appeal.
But many people do care about the value of their time, and as readers can see in the classified section of this newspaper, entry-level farm work almost always offers the least amount of compensation legally possible. If those classified ads are not responded to, the farmer is eligible to recruit farm hands through the Temporary Foreign Worker program, which is heavily relied upon in the region.