Minimum wage: Quebec apple growers want to be compensated

After having received a first refusal from Quebec Government to mitigate the impact of the increase in the minimum wage, the Producers of Apples of Quebec (PPQ) are coming back.

At their annual general meeting on January 23, the Quebec Apple Growers' unanimously adopted a resolution to continue discussions in this direction through the Union Horticultural Grower' Table (UPA). More concretely, members are asking for a temporary mitigation measure to absorb the wage increase above inflation.

The minimum wage, which will rise to $ 13.10 an hour on May 1, represents an increase of 22% since 2016 while inflation has been around 5% for the same period. "We will not give up because [Minister Lamontagne] said no to us for the first time last spring," said Daniel Ruel, Director General of Quebec Apple Growers.

The latter indicates that since then, the Horticultural Table has presented several proposals to the government, including that of obtaining a tax credit on the wage bill. In the apple industry, wages represent around a third of production costs.

Strong competition

Representatives of the Ministry of Finance have been met in recent months. "They are aware that in the agricultural sector, unlike other sectors, you cannot turn around and pass the bill on to consumers," said Mr. Ruel. Local fruits are strongly challenged by those which are imported and produced at lower cost, recalls Stéphanie Levasseur, president of Quebec Apple Growers.

In his speech to the assembly, the president of the UPA, Marcel Groleau, highlighted the efforts made by the Horticultural Table. "I don't think we should give up on this issue. We are working hard on it and we must continue to refine our arguments, ”he said. The president also spoke of the absence of reciprocity rules at the country's borders, which creates inequities between the value of imported fruits and those that are local.

Better monitoring

In fact, the Quebec Apple Growers adopted a resolution asking the federal government to apply the same legal and regulatory framework to imported products as that required for Canadian producers with regard to pesticides.

The organization is also urging Ottawa to put in place the necessary monitoring structures to ensure that imported products do not contain pesticide residues that are not registered in Canada.

2018, a year to forget

The sales value of the four main apple varieties (McIntosh, Cortland, Spartan and Empire) decreased by 2% in 2018, compared to the 10-year average. And despite an increase in volumes sold for McIntosh, its average price still fell 11%.

If the late spring adversely affected the quality of apples that year, especially in terms of firmness, producers still managed to sell better volumes than in 2017, 42 million kilos. These quantities, however, remained lower than the average of the previous five seasons, around 45 million kilos.

The president of Quebec Apple Growers., Stéphanie Levasseur, is more optimistic for the 2019 season. "It's better off for this year. We have exceptional firmness, ”she notes.

The post-ASRA

During the month of March, Les Quebec Apple Growers (PPQ) will have to submit proposals to "La Financière agricole du Québec" in an attempt to recover the $ 1.6 million paid by the government agency in the stabilization insurance agricultural income (ASRA).

This decision comes when the majority of apple growers decided to abandon ASRA to turn to Agri-Quebec and Agri-Quebec Plus last year. The Quebec Apple Growers Income Security Committee now has the mandate to present one or more investment programs to La Financière that would allow this amount to be reallocated. All producers, including those who were not previously covered by ASRA, will then be eligible for calls for applications, said Jennifer Gagné, research and information officer for Quebec Apple Growers. Details of the new program (s) should be known by the next harvest.

Source: Josianne Desjardins, La Terre de chez nous

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