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Liquor servers to join minimum wage but farmworkers and others still left out

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MEDIA RELEASE

April 19, 2018

(British Columbia) The BC Poverty Reduction Coalition (BCPRC) congratulates the government for ending the exemption to the minimum wage for liquor servers. The reliance on tips that has been used to justify the lower wage in this predominantly female sector perpetuates sexual harassment so this is a welcome announcement.

However, other workers earning less than the minimum wage, including piece-rate farm workers, resident caretakers, and live-in camp leaders, will continue to have less protection.

“While the minimum wage itself continues to be a poverty wage, it is unacceptable to keep these workers earning even less than that,” says Trish Garner, Community Organizer of the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition.

“I’m glad that they will see a much-needed raise but these are some of our most marginalized workers and they deserve at least the same basic floor as any other worker in our province. We will continue to call for no exemptions to the minimum wage.”

The government announcement today is in response to the second report from the Fair Wages Commission and follows the Commission’s recommendations:

  • to increase the liquor server wage until it reaches the minimum wage by June 2021;
  • abolish the lower wage for live-in home support workers because there are very few or no workers in this category;
  • and increase the lower wages at the same rate as the minimum wage for resident caretakers and live-in camp leaders.

However, the government did not follow the recommendation of the Fair Wages Commission to provide an increase to piece rates for farmworkers on June 1, 2018 and include them under the minimum wage on June 1, 2019.

Instead, the government is delaying the increase to January 2019 and maintaining the exemption until further study is completed.

“While we enjoy fresh fruit this season, the hard-working fruit pickers will not enjoy a raise,” says Garner.

“Pickers earning the lowest wages are predominantly women of colour, and the Commission itself quotes a former Ministry employee who says, “it is hard to see farm worker piece rates as anything other than racist and abusive.’ This must end and we expect the government to do this investigation quickly and with the workers themselves.”

The BC Poverty Reduction Coalition, in partnership with Vibrant Abbotsford, recently heard some experiences from piece-rate farmworkers in the Fraser Valley through the government’s poverty reduction consultation. Piece-rate farmworkers refer to fruit and vegetable pickers being paid by weight of the produce they pick rather than an hourly rate, and often earn less than the minimum wage.

According to a farmworker advocate interviewed by Vibrant Abbotsford, these workers often work 7 days a week, 14 to 15 hours a day, during harvesting season, and live in over-crowded, substandard housing. They are also not protected by overtime and other employment standards regulations.

“A strong, comprehensive poverty reduction plan must include the lowest paid workers in BC and we look forward to working with the government in the development of such a plan,” says Garner.

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 For more information, contact: 

Trish Garner, BC Poverty Reduction Coalition (BCPRC)
trish@bcpovertyreduction.ca / 604-417-8885

Christine Mettler, BCPRC Okanagan Regional Coordinator, Kelowna
christine@bcpovertyreduction.ca / 1-778-821-0766

Laura Bennett, BCPRC Northern Regional Coordinator, Prince George
laura@bcpovertyreduction.ca / 1-250-301-7971

The BC Poverty Reduction Coalition aims to see the introduction of a bold and comprehensive poverty reduction plan from the government of British Columbia that would include legislated targets and timelines to significantly reduce poverty, inequality and homelessness.