Farm Workers' Rights
|This information applies to British Columbia, Canada. Last reviewed for legal accuracy by Jennifer Hagen, Employment Standards Branch in January 2018.|
Farm workers are covered by most sections of the main provincial law that protects workers in BC. But there are exceptions. Learn how they affect the rights of farm workers.
Understand the legal framework
Who is considered a farm worker under the law
Under the law in BC, a farm worker is a person who works in a farming, ranching, orchard, or agricultural operation, and whose main responsibilities are:
- growing or picking crops, or raising or slaughtering animals,
- cultivating land,
- using farm equipment,
- cleaning, sorting, or packing crops, or
- selling farm products on site.
A farm worker does not include a worker who processes the products of an operation, works in aquaculture or a retail nursery, or works as a landscape gardener.
Farm workers’ rights under BC’s main employment law
Farm workers are covered by most sections of the Employment Standards Act, the main provincial law that protects workers in BC and sets minimum standards employers must meet. But there are exceptions.
For example, farm workers are excluded from statutory holiday entitlements. They don’t get statutory holiday pay or time off with pay for the 10 statutory holidays in BC.
Another, more nuanced example deals with vacation pay. Most workers in BC are entitled to an extra 4% or 6% of earnings, to provide them with pay while absent during vacation. (The percentage depends on how many years they’ve worked.)
Farm workers paid by the hour or by a salary are entitled to vacation pay, as well as vacation leave. They’re entitled to two weeks’ vacation per year after working for 12 consecutive months, and three weeks’ vacation per year after five years of employment.
Meanwhile, farm workers who harvest specific crops by hand may be paid by the piece. Farm workers paid by piece rate are not entitled to vacation pay, as it’s included in the piece rate. (The exception is for farm workers harvesting daffodils — the piece rate for them does not include vacation pay.)
Our information on farm workers’ wages (no. 273) provides more detail on wages, including minimum wage, how often wages must be paid, and overtime pay.
If an employer doesn’t follow the minimum standards
If an employer doesn’t follow the rules in the Employment Standards Act, a worker can complain to the Employment Standards Branch. The Branch is the government office that enforces the Act.
There’s no charge to make a complaint. But first, a worker must try to resolve the problem directly with their employer by using the Branch’s self-help kit. If they can’t solve the problem with their employer, they can file a complaint with the Branch in any of the following ways:
- By filling out the online complaint form.
- By printing the complaint form from the Branch website, filling it out, and mailing or faxing it, or dropping it off at a Branch office.
- By filling out the complaint form at a Branch office.
To contact the Branch, call 1-800-663-3316 or visit gov.bc.ca/employmentstandards.
You have six months to file a complaint from the time the problem took place or your employment ended. If you miss the six-month time limit for filing with the Branch, and it does not accept your late complaint, you may be able to sue in court — but only for unpaid wages and severance pay.
Farm workers are eligible for workers' compensation benefits
Workers' compensation is a BC government program that pays workers who are hurt on the job or get sick because of something that happened at work. The program is run by Work Safe BC. Employers, including farmers and farm labour contractors, must pay into the program for all their workers.
If a farm worker is hurt on the job, or gets sick because of their job, they should immediately:
- report the injury or illness to their employer or someone in charge,
- tell their employer and doctor (if they need a doctor) that they will be applying for workers’ compensation benefits, and
- apply for benefits to Work Safe BC.
There are time limits to apply for benefits — see our information on workers’ compensation (no. 285) for details.
The employer must send a report to Work Safe BC to say a worker has been hurt on the job or gotten sick on the job because of their work. Work Safe BC’s number is 1-888-621-7233.
WorkSafe BC also has rules on occupational health and safety. For more information, see the Work Safe BC website at worksafebc.com.
Farm workers may be eligible for Employment Insurance benefits
Farm workers may be able to get Employment Insurance benefits if they can’t find work or if they are sick or pregnant. Workers contribute to Employment Insurance with money deducted from their paycheque.
Farm workers often have trouble getting Employment Insurance benefits because they may not work enough hours in a year to be eligible. The number of hours needed to make a claim varies, depending on where a worker lives.
When you leave a job, ask your employer for your Record of Employment, also known as a “separation slip”. You can apply for Employment Insurance even if you don't have your records of employment, but it makes things much easier if you do. The Canada Employment Centre may be able to help you if you can’t get your Record of Employment.
See our information on applying for Employment Insurance benefits (no. 282) for more information on EI.
Keep your own, up-to-date records of the hours you work — these records will help in applying for Employment Insurance benefits if your employer hasn’t kept good records.
Farm workers may be eligible for Canada Pension Plan disability benefits
If a farm worker paid into the Canada Pension Plan and develops a severe and long-term disability that prevents them from working, the plan pays them and their dependent children a monthly pension.
You can get these benefits until you are age 65. Normally, you must have contributed to the Canada Pension Plan for four of the past six years, but there are exceptions and you may qualify even if you haven’t done this.
Call Employment and Social Development Canada at 1-800-277-9914 or visit canada.ca/cpp for more information on Canada Pension Plan disability benefits.
If a worker is subjected to discrimination or sexual harassment
All workers have the right to be treated fairly and not be discriminated against.
As well, all workers have the right to work free from sexual harassment. Sexual harassment means any unwelcome sexual behavior that affects your working conditions.
If you have a complaint about discrimination or sexual harassment, you can call the BC Human Rights Tribunal at 604-775-2000 in the Lower Mainland or 1-888-440-8844 elsewhere in BC.
You can appeal most government decisions, such as a decision to deny benefits. An advocate can help you with challenging a government decision, including with the paperwork involved. PovNet has a Find an Advocate Map at povnet.org. Clicklaw’s HelpMap lists dozens of legal advocates in BC.
At student legal clinics in the Lower Mainland and Victoria, law students help people who cannot afford a lawyer. In Victoria, call 250-385-1221 or visit uvic.ca/law/about/centre. In the Lower Mainland, call 604-822-5791 or visit lslap.bc.ca.
The Employment Standards Branch is the provincial government office that administers the BC law that sets minimum standards for workers. The Branch website includes fact sheets on farm labour contractors and farm workers, in several languages other than English. You can also call the Branch’s Agricultural Compliance Hotline at 604-513-4604.
- Toll-free: 1-800-663-3316
- Web: gov.bc.ca/employmentstandards
[updated January 2018]
The above was last reviewed for legal accuracy by Jennifer Hagen, Employment Standards Branch.
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