Historic union contract for migrant workers in B.C. | National Union of Public and General Employees

Historic union contract for migrant workers in B.C.

'This a great victory for the workers at Floralia who have exercised their Charter rights to join a union and bargain collectively.' - Wayne Hanley.

Ottawa (29 Sept. 2009) - A breakthrough collective agreement has been reached between the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW Canada) and Floralia Growers of Abbotsford, B.C.

The contract provides much-needed wage improvements for the long-exploited workers but it is even more noteworthy for the manner in which it protects the rights of migrant agriculture workers to return to Canada under the federal government’s Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP).

“We have had a lot of interest from migrant farm workers in joining the union and this contract is a huge step forward in providing the kinds of basic protections and recall rights that migrant farm workers in Canada deserve,” says Ivan Limpright, president of UFCW Local 1518.

“These are among the most vulnerable workers in Canada because too often when workers would dare complain, let alone join a union, the farm employers would make sure they didn’t call those workers back for the next season’s work, or they would just send them straight back to their home country,” Limpright says.

“This contract establishes a real measure of justice and dignity for the Floralia workers.”

Process set out

Along with language on recall rights, the contract sets out a process for the employer and union to enhance the opportunities for SAWP workers to return year after year.

In addition, when the growing season slows down and a smaller workforce is needed, a process is also established to permit those volunteering to return home to be the first to go. Other workers would return, as necessary, on the basis of seniority.

“Previously, the workers would be ‘repatriated’ – as the employers like to call it – strictly at the employer’s whim,” says Limpright.

“For example, we have had cases where there was a slowdown in the growing season and a worker volunteered to go home because his wife was pregnant or there was another family emergency, but the employer would refuse and send someone else home instead. Now, under this contract, the workers at least have some control over their own fates. This is a huge and important breakthrough.”

From Mexico

The migrant agriculture workers at Floralia are from Mexico. They make up approximately 90% of the Floralia workforce.

The new contract also includes a process to deal with overtime. Overtime hours are to be balanced among all workers, and monitored so that time is not awarded by favouritism nor used as a form of punishment against workers interested in the union.

Other achievements in the contract include:

  • Contract language that will see employees paid for all hours worked from their start time forward. Previously, workers went unpaid for travel time between fields, which could be as much as 1.5 hours per day.
  • The formation of a Health & Safety committee with worker representation.
  • A procedure to address grievances.
  • Improvements for domestic farm workers as well. Start rates for domestic workers goes from the $8 minimum wage to $9.09 per hour, equivalent to what SAWP workers earn.
  • Improvements to vacation language. Workers with two years service will be entitled to 6% vacation pay in their third year, a substantial improvement.
  • Wage increases set at the SAWP rate plus 10 cents, 10 cents, and 12 cents an hour respectively in the final three years of the contract.

"This a great victory for the workers at Floralia who have exercised their Charter rights to join a union and bargain collectively," says UFCW Canada national president Wayne Hanley.

"The Charter is not stopped by provincial borders," Hanley said, calling it shameful that Ontario and Alberta continue to trample the rights of agricultural workers by blocking their ability to unionize.

The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) has signed a formal protocol with the UFCW Canada to support the union in its ongoing drive to organize long-exploited migrant farm workers in Canada.

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