Employment Standards Branch orders wages paid to blueberry workers. (THE NEWS/files)

Aquilini-owned blueberry farm ordered to pay $131,000 to foreign workers

Pitt Meadows farm owes wages to 174 employees

Golden Eagle Blueberry Farms of Pitt Meadows has been ordered to pay more than $131,000 to top up wages and vacation pay owed to temporary foreign workers, following an investigation.

According to the Ministry of Labour, following a complaint, the Employment Standards Branch investigated payments made between March and September last year for 375 employees.

Many of the workers were from Guatemala.

Based on that investigation, the branch found that 174 employees were determined to be owed wages, adding up to a total of $131,631. An administrative penalty of $500, plus interest, was added on for a total amount payable of $134,237.

The Employment Standards Branch issued the decision on May 13.

The branch found that the largest amount owing to a particular worker was $1,943 for wages and vacation pay, plus interest, while the smallest amount owing was $10.

The ministry said that the amounts owed were determined by work permit documentation submitted to the federal government, saying the workers would get 40 hours of work a week.

“Payroll records obtained by the Employment Standards Branch demonstrate that employees at Golden Eagle did not receive as many hours as promised per their work contracts,” the ministry said.

The payment order basically entails topping up the wages of the workers who didn’t get the required number of hours.

Golden Eagle Farm Group lawyer Naz Mitha said that Golden Eagle interpreted the contract as saying that workers would get an average of 40 hours per week, sometimes more and sometimes less, but not that every worker was guaranteed 40 hours every week.

“They always perceived the contract, you get an average of 40 hours a week, depending on the weather, and other things like that,” Mitha said, adding that some weeks were longer than 40 hours.

The company, though, will comply, he added.

“Nobody was shorted. When they worked certain hours, they got paid those hours.”

He noted that the complaint was made after the fact and that no one complained at the time that they weren’t getting paid for the hours they worked.

According to B.C. Federation of Labour president Laird Cronk: “The decision shows that the farm withheld work and were not paying them the wages they were entitled to under their contract.”

He said in a May 16 news release that the workers were given a month of full-time work before their hours were cut back.

The federation submitted the complaint in collaboration with Abbotsford Community Services, Sanctuary Health Vancouver and Watari.

Cronk said the best way to protect temporary foreign workers is not to tie their status to a single employer and that temporary foreign workers should be eligible to apply for permanent residence. “With a change in status, we may have a chance to organize these vulnerable workers into unions and negotiate fairer working conditions,” Cronk said.

Golden Eagle Blueberry Farms is part of the Golden Eagle Farm Group, a subsidiary of the Aquilini Investment Group, which owns the Vancouver Canucks.

A recent WorkSafeBC’s review decision also has told “Golden Eagle farms” that it will have to pay a fine of $53,690 levied in October, following an inspection last summer of a bus used to carry workers.

The vehicle was checked at a farm in Pitt Meadows in August, by both a WorkSafe officer and Commercial Vehicle Safety Enforcement officer. The officers found a leak in the compressor discharge line, a deteriorating front airbag and a loose rear battery. They determined the vehicle, “described as a bus,” was unsafe and ordered it removed from service, said a decision by WorkSafe’s review division.



pmelnychuk@mapleridgenews.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Meet the 10-year-old girl who grew a pineapple in northern B.C.

Emily Atkins discovers it takes a lot of patience to grow tropical fruit in a temperate climate

Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Sept. 20 to 26

Rabbit Day, Hobbit Day and One-Hit Wonder Day are all coming up this week

Single-engine aircraft crashes near Telkwa

Two occupants of the plane sustained minor injuries and were transported to hospital

Search on for mushroom picker missing from near Kitwanga

Tommy Dennis was last seen Sept 16 wearing blue jeans, black cap, rubber boots, grey checked sweater

Northwest firefighters headed to Oregon to battle wildfires

Over 200 B.C. firefighting personnel will assist in the U.S.

QUIZ: A celebration of apples

September is the start of the apple harvest

Young B.C. cancer survivor rides 105-km with Terry Fox’s brother

Jacob Bredenhof and Darrell Fox’s cycling trek raises almost $90,000 for cancer research

B.C. migrant, undocumented workers rally for permanent residency program

Rally is part of the Amnesty for Undocumented Workers Campaign led by the Migrant Workers Centre

Preparations underway for pandemic election in Saskatchewan and maybe B.C.

Administrators in B.C. and around the country are also looking to expand voting by mail during the pandemic

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Nearly 20 per cent of COVID-19 infections among health-care workers by late July

WHO acknowledged the possibility that COVID-19 might be spread in the air under certain conditions

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dies at 87

The court’s second female justice, died Friday at her home in Washington

Emaciated grizzly found dead on central B.C. coast as low salmon count sparks concern

Grizzly was found on Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw territory in Smith Inlet, 60K north of Port Hardy

VIDEO: B.C. to launch mouth-rinse COVID-19 test for kids

Test involves swishing and gargling saline in mouth and no deep-nasal swab

Most Read