No overtime pay for cannabis farm workers

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Courtesy of Lift Magazine

In November of 2013, two former employees of Suncoast Health, a commercial cannabis company operating under the former MMAR in Sechelt, B.C., filed complaints against the cannabis farm, claiming over $100,000 in unpaid wages. An investigation was held and roughly $47,000 was determined to be owed—mostly for overtime, but also smaller amounts for unpaid regular hours, statutory holiday hours, and earned vacation pay.

Suncoast appealed the decision.

The arguments of appeal ultimately led to a ruling that employees hired to help grow cannabis fall under the classification of “farm employees” and are therefore not eligible for statutory entitlements, such as overtime or extra pay for working on stat holidays.

The farm’s owner was licensed under the Medical Marihuana Access Regulations (MMAR) for 487 plants and allowed to store over 20 kg of cannabis on site. One of the two workers in question held a “Designated Person Production Licence” under the MMAR at the request of the owner.

The case also referenced a similar one against MedReleaf, a licensed cannabis producer in Ontario, which ended in a similar ruling.

A number of particularly interesting points came up in the case. Lift News breaks down the highlights:

Initial ruling

In the original case brought before the Employment Standards Tribunal, Suncoast argued that the two former employees with claims against the company were defined as “farm workers” under subsection 1(1) of B.C.’s Employment Standards Regulation. Section 34.1 of the same Regulation states that farm workers aren’t entitled to overtime wages or statutory holiday wages normally payable under the Employment Standards Act.

Suncoast also held that the claims should never have been heard by the tribunal in the first place, as they were filed at the provincial level, whereas labour regulations for Health Canada licensed providers, Suncoast argued, are the jurisdiction of federal regulators.

The complaints came from former employees Zack Anthony, who claimed nearly $93,000 in unpaid regular wages, overtime, and vacation pay, and Michael Hug, who sought roughly $8,500 for unpaid wages.

A delegate for the Director of Employment Standards reported that the jurisdictional challenge was invalid for two reasons: Suncoast was not listed as an approved provider under Health Canada’s MMPR program, and the licensing paperwork submitted for Suncoast Health Corp had no mention of the company name, only the name of the company’s principal owner.

All of that added up to the jurisdictional challenge being rejected on the decision that Suncoast’s claim of being a federally authorized producer was “without merit.”

The Director’s delegate also rejected Suncoast’s assertion that the former employees fell under the classification of “farm workers,” finding that the relevant subsection of the regulation states that “a person employed to process the products of a farming, ranching, orchard or agricultural operation is not a farm worker.”

The Director’s delegate went on to infer that a person employed to process agricultural products to an altered or different state is not a farm worker, and hinged the rejection of the “farm workers” definition on the supposition that by trimming

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