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Agricultural workers and harvesters rights

The employment standards acts of each province and territory apply to almost all workers who reside within that province or territory.

Exceptions may exist when it comes to agricultural workers and harvesters.

In some provinces/territories, agricultural workers are called or classified under the term “farm workers”. Often distinctions are not made between the two except for details about wages.

Note that rules are different from province/territory to province/territory when it comes to the rights of agricultural workers and harvesters – though they may have similarities. You have to consult the employment standards act of your province and territory to see what rights these workers have under the act or else consult a lawyer.

Here are a few examples of how different provinces deal with agricultural workers and harvesters.

British Columbia

Farm workers are defined under the Employment Standards Act of B.C. as a person employed in farming, ranching, orchard or agricultural operation and who have principal employment responsibilities.

Under the ESA, though farm workers are covered, there are exceptions to their coverage:

  • Minimum wage: Farm workers who harvest specified crops by hand may be paid by piece rate, but there must be a minimum piece rate for each crop. All other farm workers must be paid at least the minimum wage;
  • All farm workers must be paid at least twice a month; and
  • Piece-rate harvesters may be paid at least 80 percent of total estimated wages owing at the middle of each month. All remaining wages must be paid within eight days of the end of the month.

Ontario

Though farms have to follow the Employment Standards Act of Ontario, not all of the work that is done on a farm is considered agricultural work or farming under the ESA.

The ESA classifies agricultural workers into four categories, which includes farm workers and harvesters and it does so because harvesters may get some benefits that farm workers don’t get.

Harvesters, for example, are entitled to minimum wage and vacation pay in certain cases, but farm workers are not entitled to the same benefits.

Harvester’s rights include:

  • Regular payment of wages and wage statements;
  • Leaves of absence;
  • Termination notice and / or pay and severance pay;
  • Equal pay for equal work;
  • Minimum wage;
  • Vacation with pay (after being employed for 13 weeks as a harvester); and
  • Public holidays (after being employed for 13 weeks as a harvester)

Farm worker’s rights include:

  • Regular payment of wages and wage statements;
  • Leaves of absence;
  • Termination notice and /or pay and severance pay; and
  • Equal pay for equal work.

Alberta

Alberta has just updated protections for agricultural workers by introducing new legislation when it comes to farm and ranch workers.

Alberta introduced the Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act and it became law in December 2015. The changes came into effect starting on January 1, 2016. The new rules will apply only to farm and ranch operations that employ paid workers. They won’t apply to owners or family members of owners.

Some of the changes include:

  • As of January 1, 2016, farm and ranch workers are covered under the Workers Compensation Board insurance coverage. Employers have to comply by April 30, 2016;
  • These workers are also now covered by the Occupational Health and Safety Act of Alberta and are able to refuse unsafe work. OHS will investigate injuries and fatalities; and
  • Employment standards and labour relations will be developed for these workers in consultation with the industry. Exemptions remain until there are new regulations.

If you are an agricultural worker or harvester and have questions regarding your employment rights or you have issues with your employer, consult a lawyer.

Read more:

Farm Workers Factsheet British Columbia

Agricultural Workers Ontario