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Surrey, British Columbia: PICS’ Gill Telling Farm Workers To Wake Up And Smell The Low Wages
The Link Paper
R. Paul Dhillon

August 27, 2011
View the Original Article


Punjabi Farmers And Labour Contractors Are Discriminating With Their Own Kind, Says Gill

“Farm workers, when will you wake up,” asks Progressive Intercultural Community Services Society (PICS) CEO Charanpal Gill. He said that while all the Mexican workers are getting paid on an hourly basis but the Punjabi workers work on a piece rate and as a result they make half of what other farm workers are making in BC.

SURREY – Punjabi farmers and labour contractors are discriminating with their own kind, charged Progressive Intercultural Community Services Society (PICS) CEO Charanpal Gill.

Gill said that while all the Mexican workers are getting paid on an hourly basis but the Punjabi workers work on a piece rate and as a result they make half of what other farm workers are making in BC.

“We have been attempting to educate Punjabi People for the last twenty five years,” Gill said in a press release.

“We fail to understand why they keep working under the same conditions when they all know that they are being discriminated against by getting paid lesser wages. The labour contractors continue to sell cheap labour, however I am pleased that labour contractors and farmers are transporting workers in new vans. Due to this we had no major accidents.”

Gills aid do not depend on good luck.

“I appeal the farm workers to defend themselves and urge them to stand up for their rights. If you do not stand up, no one will help you, and all the work done in the past for farmworkers rights will prove meaningless

“So please wake up!”

While Punjabi pickers are paid a minimum of 34 cents per pound for strawberries, their Mexican counterparts are making the BC minimum wage of $8.75 an hour. More than 10,000 pickers are paid piece-work rates based on how much they harvest.

Gill told the Surrey Leader newspaper it appears the province ordered the review in response to complaints of farmers and contractors after indications the minimum piece rates would rise in lockstep with a series of planned increases in B.C.’s minimum wage.

“I have no faith they will be fair to the workers,” Gill said, adding the consultant Victoria has hired speaks no Punjabi and therefore won’t get a fair sense of most harvesters’ concerns.

Gill said the per pound rates typically work out to the equivalent of $4 or $5 an hour.

“We are saying there should be a living wage for the farm workers,” he said.

Gill argues the province should eliminate piece rates entirely in favour of hourly wages.

That would also help reform the current system, which critics say is rife with abuse of workers and corrupt accounting practices.

Farm contractors routinely pay pickers at piece rates but then convert the amounts to hourly pay on the books as if minimum wages had been paid, reported the Leader.

That lets companies record an artificially low number of hours and avoid violating employment standards when pickers work long hours during harvest season.

Federal tax auditors have prosecuted dozens of Lower Mainland pickers before for EI fraud over their role in such schemes, although most employers have avoided punishment.

“There should be a total survey of the farm industry to clean up this thing,” Gill said.

B.C. Federation of Labour president Jim Sinclair said Ontario and Quebec both use a system that ensures a minimum wage for farm workers, while retaining a piece rate system that can result in pickers being paid more.

“You get paid no less than minimum wage,” he said, adding B.C. should follow suit.

“The minimum wage for farm workers should be the minimum wage for everybody else.”

Sinclair noted Mexican farm workers here on temporary work permits must be paid minimum wage, adding it’s bizarre that permanent B.C. residents get treated worse.

The consultant handling the review is to report back by the end of October, just before the minimum wage rises another 75 cents on Nov. 1.