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Mediation For Unpaid Workers Gives Organic Farmers Reason to Pause

Saturday, April, 27, 2013


A farm on Vancouver Island recently entered mediation with former unpaid interns and will now have to pay thousands of dollars in back pay to the workers in a move that has prompted other organic farmers to reconsider having unpaid interns.  The circumstances surrounding the dispute began when Evelyn and Jacinto Pereira, the owners of Terra Nossa Farm in Mill Bay, allowed a couple to reside on their farm in an RV in order to learn about farming and potentially buy the farm. 

In their arrangement with the couple, the Pereiras used the term “apprenticeship” and agreed to pay the couple $1,000 per month for their work, in addition to giving them food from the farm.  However, when the couple later learned that there were other workers on the farm who were paid significantly more, they submitted a claim through the British Columbia Employment Standards Office and informed the Pereiras that they were seeking $15,000 in wages that were due to them based on the amount of time they worked on the farm. 

Based on their attorneys’ advice, the Pereiras decided to enter mediation with the couple and settled on an award of $10,000 to be given to them. “Employment Standards is pretty black and white about what an employee is; if they are coming to your farm to do the work that an employee would do, then they are an employee,” said Evelyn Pereira

The results of the dispute has now prompted other farms to reconsider their use of interns and unpaid worker through such entities as The Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms, which is a network of organizations  that matches travellers with volunteer worker positions on farms.  Known as ‘Wwoofers,’ these volunteers sign a statement saying that they understand that they will not be paid.  However, according to British Columbia’s Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training, signing such a document does not mean that the worker does not have the right to be paid for his or her work.