by SUSAN MANN
The impact of a Simcoe-area berry plant farm’s bankruptcy on supply may not be as bad as initially thought as other provincial propagators feel positive their crops can cover the demand for strawberry plants and raspberry canes, says a growers’ association spokesman.
Kevin Schooley, executive director of the Ontario Berry Growers Association, says a few growers may have been preparing for the loss of supply from Ghesquiere Plant Farms Ltd., which went bankrupt late last year, and “expanded a bit of their acreage.”
The berry growers association is a voluntary organization of more than 200 growers who produce 80 per cent of the berry crops grown in Ontario.
Schooley says he thinks there will be adequate supply this year but his comment to growers is “order your plants early to make sure you get the varieties you want.”
Growers should get their orders in now rather than waiting until the middle or end of February.
Schooley says he’s talked to many growers and a lot of them are aware of the situation with Ghesquiere. The association has also advised growers through its newsletter to get plants earlier than they normally would.
There was also concern in California, where Ghesquiere had another farm, that there would be a shortage of strawberry plants and raspberry canes in the state but that didn’t happen, he says.
Meanwhile, an Ontario Labour Ministry investigation into the bankrupt Simcoe-area berry plant farm found that 121 Canadian and migrant farm workers are owed $150,000 in unpaid wages.
Ministry spokesman Matt Blajer says their investigation into Ghesquiere Plant Farms Ltd., which went bankrupt Nov. 30, 2010, is now completed. The ministry has filed a proof of claim for the unpaid wages with the trustee, BDO Canada Limited.
Blajer says the total amount filed with the trustee was $406,000. Of that amount, $150,000 was for unpaid net wages, while the rest was for authorized deductions that weren’t remitted to the Canadian Revenue Agency and the Jamaican, Trinidad and Tobago consulates. Blajer says he didn’t know what the money earmarked for the consulates was for.
The trustee then forwards information to Human Resources and Skills Development Canada under the Wage Earner Protection program, which reimburses eligible workers their unpaid wages to a maximum of $3,300 per worker in cases of companies that go bankrupt.
Amelie Maisonneuve, spokesperson for the Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, says by email the trustee has to identify the workers and determine the amounts they are owed. But under the program, it’s the workers themselves who have to file an application to get paid.
Maisonneuve says the federal government has started receiving applications from the workers under the program. They are processing the applications to determine the workers’ eligibility.
If the workers are eligible, the government will issue a payment, she says.
The labour ministry is now conducting a secondary investigation into the application of the directors’ liability provisions of the Ontario Employment Standards Act. Ministry spokesman William Lin says by email the Act enables the ministry to pursue up to six months of wages and one year of vacation pay from company directors of record at the time the wages were earned. The ministry can pursue wages for employees from directors even from companies that have gone bankrupt.
Blajer says he doesn’t know how long it will take to complete that investigation but the ministry has up to two years to do it. BF