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January 2003, Volume 9, Number 1

Canada: Migrants, Unions

A coalition of trade union and community activists launched the Global Justice CareVan Project in 2001, and resumed activities in 2002. In June 2002, a Migrant Agricultural Workers Support Center was opened in Leamington, Ontario, the heart of Canada's vegetable and greenhouse production, to provide services to 17,000 foreign workers from Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados and Mexico who enter Canada under the Foreign Agricultural Resource Management Services program, or FARMS. FARMS, under the supervision of Human Resources Development Canada, has managed the guest worker program since 1966 under the terms of bilateral agreements.

Foreign workers can stay a maximum eight months in Canada- their average stay is four months. Henry Neufeld, manager of the HRDC's Ontario farm programs, says that guest workers represent five to 20 percent of the total seasonal workforce.

Many of the foreign workers pick tomatoes in Canadian greenhouses. In 2001, Florida tomato growers accused the Canadians of dumping tomatoes in the US, which prompted the Canadians to file a similar dumping complaint against the US growers; both dumping accusations were dropped by their respective governments.

In May 2002, four Mexican workers who had nonimmigrant visas to work at Maple Leaf Pork in Brandon, Manitoba were arrested just inside the North Dakota border. Maple Leaf processes 9,000 hogs a day, and hired 47 Mexican workers with two-year visas for C$9.65 an hour. As the number of Mexican guest workers in Canada increases, the number slipping away to the US may increase.

Unions. The Supreme Court of Canada in December 2001 found unconstitutional an Ontario law that prohibited farm workers from forming unions. In response, the Ontario government in November 2002 approved Bill 187, which allows farm workers to form associations and make representations to their employers, but does not require employers to recognize these associations as sole bargaining agents. Farm workers remain excluded from provincial health and safety legislation and do not have the right to strike, restrictions the Agriculture Minister says are necessary to protect family farmers.

Ontario had a law giving non-migrant farm workers the right to bargain, but it was repealed by the Conservative government under premier Mike Harris; this repeal was declared a violation of the Charter of Rights. The New Democrats, who approved the first law, opposed the new law. There are an estimated 100,000 farm workers in Ontario.

Erik Martensson, "Money draws migrant workers north," Guelph Mercury, November 14, 2002.

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