April 2009, Volume 15, Number 2
Canada: Ontario Farm Workers
The Ontario Court of Appeal in November 2008 ruled that the province's Agricultural Employees Protection Act, which does not require farm employers to bargain with farm worker unions, is unconstitutional. The court gave Ontario's government 12 months to enact a law balancing the rights of farm workers and family farmers.
In January 2009, the provincial government appealed the ruling. The Canadian Supreme Court set oral argument on the appeal for November 2009.
There are an estimated 32,000 hired workers in Ontario, half of whom are foreigners in the province with temporary work permits. The United Food and Commercial Workers of Canada, which brought the case, said it is interested in organizing workers employed on farms with 50 or more workers. The UFCW is Canada's largest private-sector union, with 250,000 members in every sector of the food industry, including bargaining units with farmers in British Columbia, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Quebec.
Ontario and Alberta are the only provinces that do not require farmers to recognize unions. In some provinces, farm employers with fewer than five workers are exempt from the labor relations law.
An NDP government in Ontario (1990-95) enacted legislation in 1994 that permitted farm workers to organize, with disputes resolved by binding arbitration; under this law, the UFCW represented workers at Leamington's Highline Mushrooms. A Conservative provincial government (1995-2002) repealed the law; the UFCW was decertified at a Leamington-area mushroom farm. The Conservative government enacted a law permitting farm workers to form associations, but farm employers did not have to bargain with them. This law was declared unconstitutional in November 2008.