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

Trail RCMP report sabotage, a side-swipe and more

Briefs from Trail and Greater District police Sergeant Mike Wicentowich

Happy Hills Farm store opens in Rossland

The store sells various produce like herbs, berries and microgreens

Interior Health reports two more COVID-19 cases

IH: One person is in hospital. No one is in ICU with COVID-19.

Smoker Farms bringing craft-style cannabis to Beaverdell

Husband-wife team growing small-scale cultivations of marijuana

Farms to Friends brings fresh local food to West Kootenay families

“It is a really fulfilling project for everyone,” says executive director Montana Burgess.

B.C. records new COVID-19 death, 85 more cases; Horgan calls on celebrity help

This brings the total number of active confirmed cases to 531 across the province

Horvat scores 2 as Vancouver Canucks beat Blues 5-2 in NHL playoff opener

Game 2 in best-of-seven series goes Friday night

Teachers to get 2 extra days to prepare for students’ return, now set for Sept. 10

Students will first start with orientation and learn rules of COVID-19 classroom policies

High-volume littering at Cape Scott draws ire from hiking groups

Popular Vancouver Island hiking spot not closing, but frustration about crowding grows

SFU to drop ‘Clan’ varsity team name

The ‘Clan’ name is shortened from ‘Clansmen,’ and was introduced roughly 55 years ago

New Tory leader must build a strong team in Commons and for the campaign: Scheer

Scheer marked his final day in the House of Commons today as leader of the Opposition

B.C. to hire 500 more COVID-19 contact tracers ahead of fall

Contract tracers add an ‘extra layer’ in the fight against the novel coronavirus

Feds commit $305M in additional funds for Indigenous communities during COVID-19

Money can be used to battle food insecurity and support children and mental health

We were a bit tone deaf: Hobo Cannabis renamed Dutch Love after backlash

Hobo Cannabis has various locations in Vancouver, Kelowna and Ottawa

Most Read