Agriculture economist to study farm worker wages

THE provincial government announced on Monday that it has retained Karen Taylor, a UBC agricultural economist,   to study agriculture piece rates and the minimum wages for farm workers who harvest crops by hand.

Taylor will expand on work that has been done by the Fair Wages Commission as part of its mandate to advise government on minimum wages in British Columbia.

Her findings will be provided to the Fair Wages Commission by December 31, 2018, and will inform the commission’s recommendations to government on how to reform piece rates for agriculture workers.

In April 2018, government accepted recommendations put forward by the Fair Wages Commission on alternate minimum wages in B.C., with the exception of the one regarding farm workers who are paid through piece rates. The commission’s report noted gaps in information on B.C.’s piece-rate system, which has been in place nearly 40 years and is unique in Canada.

Providing subject-matter expertise, Taylor will gather the additional information needed to advise government on how best to ensure fair wages for piece-rate farm workers.

Taylor will speak directly with farm workers and employers, hearing about their experiences with the current payment system. The time frame for previous consultations on this issue – October and November 2017 – did not allow for this because it was not during the harvest season.

Meanwhile, all piece rates will increase 11.5%, as of January 1, 2019.

The Ministry of Labour worked in consultation with the Fair Wages Commission and the Ministry of Agriculture to facilitate the hiring of Taylor, who brings a wealth of knowledge and experience. Taylor is an adjunct professor at the University of British Columbia who teaches agribusiness, is a member of the B.C. Institute of Agrologists and is a director on the Langley Sustainable Agriculture Foundation. She holds a PhD in agricultural economics and an MBA in agribusiness.

The independent Fair Wages Commission was established in October 2017. The commission has a mandate to advise government on an approach to raising provincial minimum wages, with increases that are regular, measured and predictable.