Minimum wage increase hampers Okanagan fruit growers

No consultation for implementation of wage changes

Updated: 2:00 p.m.

B.C. Agriculture Minister Lana Popham offered some hope of relief for Okanagan fruit growers concerning the minimum wage increases.

Popham said she has heard “loud and clear” about the concerns of the minimum wage being increased beyond $15/hour as of June 2021.

“That is why we set up a specific arm of the minimum wage review commission to deal with the impacts of the minimum wage increase for the agriculture industry and I expect to get a report back from them in March,” Popham said.

“And I invite the agriculture community to give their input into that report as well.”

What can be done to ease the industry’s concerns, she said, will depend on what recommendations come forward.

“I hope to receive that report in March and we’ll take it from there,” she said.

The initial increase to the minimum wage is set for June, with subsequent incremental increases scheduled every June until 2021.

Original: 11:30 a.m.

The increase to the minimum wage caught the B.C. agriculture industry by surprise, and has left farmers having to absorb those increased labour costs this year, says an advocacy group for the industry.

“For our industry, they couldn’t have picked a worse time to adopt these changes, ” said Danielle Synotte, communications director for the BC Agricultural Council.

“The government received a report from the minimum wage review commission and just adopted every recommendation without any consultation for how it will be implemented.”

Among those recommendations was the proposal to phase in increases to the minimum wage— currently $11.35 — which will rise to $12.65 on June 1 and be phased in over the following three years to reach $15.20 an hour by June 1, 2021.

Synotte said the difficulty for Okanagan fruit growers is contracts and purchase agreements are already in place for this year.

Recent: Local business owners weigh in on minimum wage increase

“We would have preferred to see this change start in September rather than June but it was a surprise to see the changes adopted this quickly,” Synotte said.

Beyond the change to farm workers wages, what Synotte is also hearing from farmers is how to deal with workers who already were above the minimum wage.

“If lower wage earners are getting an increase, then the question becomes about making adjustments for those who are making just above the minimum wage now. If the minimum wage workers get an increase then those who are above that wage level will look to see an increase as well,” Synotte said.

“But there is not much we can do about it now as the opportunity to reach out and talk about how to adopt these changes has passed.”

Speaking at the B.C. Fruit Growers Associaition annual general meeting in Kelowna today, an Okanagan orchardist said fruit growers are unable to pass on added wage costs to their retail buyers.

“We are a commodity-based industry. At the retail level, added costs can be passed on to the consumer. But we are limited by what our retail buyers are willing to pay,” he said.

BCFGA members were expecting to bring the minimum wage issue up with B.C. Agricultural Minister Lana Popham when she speaks at the convention this afternoon.

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