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‘Bank’ breaking work

‘Bank’ breaking work


January 23, 2009
By Marg Land


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Ask any business owner what the biggest expense in business is and
they’ll tell you labour.

Ask any business owner what the biggest expense in business is and they’ll tell you labour. Agriculture is no different, with employee wages representing up to 60 per cent of all farm expenses.

Labour is such a big issue for fruit and vegetable producers that the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association (OFVGA) formed a Labour Issues Coordinating Committee (LICC) almost 20 years ago. That committee’s chair, Ken Forth, a berry farmer from the Ancaster, Ont., area, recently gave his committee report for 2008 at the OFVGA’s annual meeting. It foreshadowed many of the challenges facing growers this season, including the increase to the minimum wage starting March 31 and the recent court decision to strike down Ontario’s Agricultural Employees Protection Act, thus allowing farm workers the right to unionize and undertake collective bargaining.

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Since Forth’s presentation, the Ontario government has announced it’s appealing the Nov. 18, 2008, Ontario Court of Appeal decision. It has yet to be announced whether the Supreme Court will hear the case and, if so, when the appeal would be heard.

Forth assured growers the OFVGA would do “everything in (its) power to stop it.”

He urged producers to set up a safety system on their farms and to provide the best quality housing possible. Workers should not only be productive, they should also have an “enjoyable, satisfying experience on our farms,” said Forth.

The minimum wage increase issue is also a big threat to Ontario producers, especially considering many are not seeing reciprocal increases in produce prices.

“We all know we have no control of those prices,” said Forth. “Our competition in the U.S., Mexico and the Far East have labour rates much lower than ours – they get the market.

“Canadians seem to be satisfied with the cheapest, no matter how or where it is produced.”

A quick tour down any aisle at the neighbourhood grocery store supplies more than enough evidence of this fact. Cheap food is shipped thousands of miles to Canadian store shelves. Meanwhile, about 10 miles away, the same crop is grown and can’t find a market.
Forth admits the buy local movement is helping increase interest in Canadian and Ontario produce. “But will it be enough?” he questions.

Time isn’t on the side of Ontario growers. Next year – 2010 – minimum wage will rise from $9.50 to $10.25 per hour. ❦

Correction
In the November/December 2008 issue of Fruit and Vegetable Magazine, an article entitled “Pruning for big cherries in B.C.” (page 12) was printed that contained some factual errors and misinformation (see Letter to the Editor below). At Fruit and Vegetable Magazine, we do our best to properly review articles before they go to press. Unfortunately, this was one that made it through without being thoroughly vetted. As a service to our readers, the article has been reprinted in this issue (see page 30) with corrections made. We thank Lindsay Hainstock of the Okanagan Tree Fruit Cooperative for her understanding and assistance. We apologize for the errors and any confusion they may have caused.


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