Canada and Ontario violating farm workers' rights

International Labour Organization, a UN agency, says an Ontario ban on farm unions violates human rights of 100,000 migrant and domestic farm workers in the province.

Ottawa (19 Nov. 2010) - The International Labour Organization (ILO), a United Nations agency, has ruled that Canada and Ontario are violating the rights of more than 100,000 migrant and domestic farm workers in Ontario by banning farm unions.

The decision by the Geneva-based agency comes in a ruling on a complaint filed in March 2009 by the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW Canada).

The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) has signed a protocol with UFCW Canada to support and cooperate in the UFCW's campaign to organize farm workers and employees of Walmart stores across Canada.

NUPGE president James Clancy called the ruling "great news" for farm workers and for UFCW Canada in its long fight to achieve collective bargaining rights for them.

He noted that this is the second decision in the last 10 years by the ILO condemning Ontario for denying farm workers their right to freedom of association. The first was against the Harris and Eves Conservative governments. This is against the McGuinty Liberal government.

The right of all workers to join a union and bargain collectively has been the most fundamental ILO principle throughout its 91-year history, Clancy said.

“Shame on Premier McGuinty and shame on Prime Minister Harper for allowing Canada's human rights reputation to be sullied internationally. It’s appalling that they are prepared to deny the basic human rights of these workers just to appease the agricultural industry here in Ontario. Obviously human rights take a back seat to the interests of the powerful farm lobby," Clancy said.

"I’m confident the Supreme Court of Canada will soon put an end to this flagrant disregard of human rights and give farm workers the same rights of all other Canadian workers as guaranteed under our Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”

Wayne Hanley, president of the UFCW Canada, said the ILO ruling sends a "clear message" that the Canadian and Ontario governments must end the "blatant abuse of the rights of the workers who grow and harvest our food."

"These are farm workers - not farm animals - and people have human rights, including the right to collective bargaining," Hanley said.

The ILO ruling found that Ontario's Agricultural Employees Protection Act, 2002 (AEPA), which denies all Ontario agriculture workers the right to join a union and engage in collective bargaining, is a violation of human rights under two United Nation's Conventions: Convention No. 87 - Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize and Convention No. 98 - Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining.

Canada is a signatory to Convention 87 and supported Convention 98.

"So you would expect a federal government that bid to get on the UN Security Council would have the integrity to follow up on the UN Conventions," says Hanley.

"The feds can say it's a provincial matter but the reality is that both the Harper and McGuinty governments are partners with the farm lobby in plowing under the human rights of people doing some of the hardest and most dangerous work there is."

The ILO ruling reinforces a 2008 Ontario Court of Appeal ruling finding that the AEPA violates Canada's Charter by denying Ontario farm workers their freedom of association.

The Ontario government subsequently appealed that decision to the Supreme Court of Canada, which has twice before upheld Charter guarantees of collective bargaining rights. The Supreme Court heard the appeal in December 2009 and a final ruling is pending.

"While Ontario continues to stall by using the courts, the lives of the workers continue to be at risk," said Hanley.

"Without labour rights, Ontario farm workers remain powerless when faced with abusive employers and dangerous working conditions. The Ontario courts have said it. The Supreme Court has said it, and now the United Nations has said it. Labour rights are human rights and that must include Ontario farm workers."


The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 340,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE