Daffodil pickers work on farmland adjascent to Mount Newton Cross Road in Saanichtion. (File)

Daffodil picker questions wages at Central Saanich farm

Rate well above B.C. standard; pay comes down to work ethic

A daffodil picker working for a farm in Central Saanich says some people are making less than minimum wage and is questioning whether that’s legal.

However, Ryan Vantreight, general manager of Longview Farm — Canada’s largest daffodil producer — says they pay well above the provincial piece rate standard and yet they still have trouble keeping workers due to the nature of the job.

Angela Schenker told Black Press in an email she has been picking daffodils and is being paid piece rate — or a certain rate per bundle of daffodils — but is receiving less than B.C.’s current minimum wage after 10 hours of work.

“A lot of people are making less than minimum wage,” Schenker said. “How can this be legal? This is a multi-million dollar company. We are hungry workers. Literally.”

RELATED: Daffodils’ early arrival has farm scrambling for pickers.

According to the B.C. Employment Standards Branch, daffodil pickers working on piece rate are to receive a minimum rate of $0.152 a bunch (10 stems) as of Sept. 2017.

Vantreight said Longview pays $0.20 per bunch, mainly to help attract local workers — well above the B.C. standard.

Current general minimum wage in B.C. is $11.35 an hour. To reach that hourly wage, pickers would have to produce almost 75 bunches in an hour at the standard $0.152 rate. At Longview, Vantreight said they pay workers $20 per box of flowers (at 100 bundles of 10 stems) and the standard on the farm is 11 to 14 boxes per day.

Vantreight said the farm is up front with new pickers about the rate of pay and the work ethic required for this kind of job.

“It’s not an easy job,” he said. “And we are always challenged with getting workers.”

He said the wage people are paid is based on their productivity and while there is a standard set for picking, no one is forced to do the work and some pickers produce five to seven boxes a day. Those who pick more, he explained, make more money, which is typical in both hand-harvested crops and in industries where piece rates are in effect.

“Your productivity is your rate.”

“I see them bringing in new people every single day,” Schenker said. “Very often, people work only one day and don’t come back. After making $60 in 10 hours … well, I would quit too.”

Vantreight agreed there is a lot of turnover at the farm, mostly due to the type of work, which sometimes results in disgruntled people. He said if they call 20 people on a list of potential workers, four or five typically show up. Others don’t last the day and never return, he explained, despite an orientation and video for new workers when they first arrive.

Vantreight added the farm sells boots and other gear at wholesale rates, typically for new pickers who arrive unprepared for outdoor work. Deposits are taken each day for special knives workers use, and that deposit is returned at the end of the day.

Schenker also questioned the farm’s use of workers from Mexico, alleging they are paid hourly but are pressured to work fast. Vantreight refuted that, saying the foreign workers they hire are not pressured.

He said they hire professional harvesters who know the job and do pay them an hourly wage. That’s because they are working under contract between the farm and the governments of Canada and Mexico. Vantreight added the farm needs to use foreign works to supplement their needs — and that’s to ensure they get the crop off in time.

“We still hire every Canadian that applies,” he said.

B.C.’s minimum wage is set to increase to $12.65 per hour as of June 1, 2018. Vantreight said they already pay well over the current piece rate standard and will review their options once the province announces its new rates in June.

Longview Farm put out a call for pickers back in February, when warmer than usual weather prompted the daffodils to arrive early. That momentum was lost, he said, then it snowed later that month. Now, the farm is about three weeks into their main picking season — and they are still looking for people who want to work for the final two or three weeks of the season.



editor@peninsulanewsreview.com

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