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July 2010, Volume 16, Number 3

Canada: Unions, Migrants

Unions. The UFCW, with 250,000 members the largest union representing private-sector workers in Canada, has been active in organizing and supporting migrants admitted under the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program. The union rights of farm workers are regulated at the provincial level, and farm workers are generally excluded from provincial labor relations laws.

Manitoba was the first province to allow SAWP workers to unionize. SAWP workers at Mayfair Farms in Portage La Prairie, Manitoba voted to have the UFCW represent them on June 26, 2007. However, just after the vote, some of the Mexican workers asked that the vote be nullified on the grounds that they did not understand that they were voting for union representation.

The Manitoba Labor Board ruled that there could be no decertification vote for a year, and the UFCW and Mayfair signed a three-year agreement in summer 2008 that linked future wage increases to the provincial minimum wage and provided a C$1 an hour overtime premium for work done after 70 hours a week. On June 25, 2009, Mayfair workers voted 26-0 to decertify UFCW Local 328, and the Manitoba Labor Board revoked the UFCW's certification in July 2009.

There have been organizing drives and collective bargaining agreements reached in several other provinces, including British Columbia. However, most farm workers are in Ontario, where the right of farm workers to organize and bargain was the subject of a Supreme Court of Canada hearing on December 17, 2009.

Ontario's provincial Labor Relations Act excluded farm workers until 1994, when the government of Ontario removed the farm worker exclusion. A year later, a new government came to power and reversed the inclusion of farm workers under the LRA, arguing that the biological production process and globally set prices for farm commodities justified the exemption. This reversal prompted a suit by farm workers and, in Dunmore v. Ontario (2001), the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Ontario's government violated Section 2(d) of Canada's Charter by eliminating the right of farm workers to form unions and bargain.

Ontario's provincial government responded with the Agricultural Employees Protection Act of 2002 (www.omafra.gov.on.ca/english/busdev/facts/03-045.htm), which does not require farm employers to bargain with the associations that the AEPA allowed farm workers to form. The UFCW sued, alleging that Section 2(d) of Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms includes an implied right to organize and bargain collectively. The December 2009 case deals with the constitutionality of AEPA? the Supreme Court is to decide if provinces can make laws excluding some types of workers from provincial labor relations laws.

The Quebec Labor Relations Board on April 16, 2010 ruled that all hired workers in the province have a constitutional right to organize for the purposes of collective bargaining under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The QLRB certified a bargaining unit at a Mirabel-area farm by invalidating Article 21.5 of the Quebec Labour Code, which limited collective bargaining to farms with at least three year-round farm workers.

According to the UFCW, there are 27,000 hired farm workers in Quebec, including 6,000 foreign guest workers.

Migrants. Canada has two programs admitting guest workers for employment in agriculture and related industries, the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program and the Pilot Project for Occupations Requiring Lower Levels of Formal Training.

Under the Pilot Project, Canadian employers can hire foreign workers with no more than a high-school education for up to 24 months if they cannot recruit local workers.

In April 2010, Thai guest workers in Ontario asked for immigrant visas, saying that they had paid up to $10,000 each in Thailand for jobs on Canadian mushroom farms, and that agents charged them an additional $2,000 to help them with applications for asylum to remain in Canada. There are about 500 Thai and 250 Filipinos in Ontario who were admitted under the Pilot Project to work in farm and farm-related occupations.

Dalson Chen, "Migrant workers seek residency," Windsor Star, April 24, 2010.


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