Ontario Liberal government appeals to Canada's highest court to deny bargaining rights to agricultural workers
Ottawa (7 April 2009) - The Supreme Court of Canada will hear the Ontario government's appeal of a lower court decision striking down the Agricultural Employees Protection Act (AEPA) which has blocked farm workers from collective bargaining. The date set for the case is Nov. 17.
"We're disappointed," said Wayne Hanley, national president of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW Canada), which challenged the 2003 law in court on behalf of three workers at a Windsor-area mushroom farm.
"We're also enraged that the Ontario government has chosen to continue denying the human rights of the province's most vulnerable workers. The actions of the McGuinty government and the corporate farm lobby are shaming Canada's international reputation."
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.
Dates back to Harries and Eves
The AEPA was introduced in 2003 by the Tory government of Ernie Eves after the previous Mike Harris Tory government repealed the Agricultural Labour Relations Act (ALRA), a law approved in the early 1990s by the NDP government of Bob Rae. The ALRA extended collective bargaining rights to farm workers.
The AEPA, which replaced it, stopped far short of permitting legal collective bargaining by specifically denying any organization the right to exclusively represent farm workers.
The Ontario Court of Appeal ruled in November 2008 that the AEPA was constitutionally invalid because it impairs "the capacity of agricultural workers to meaningfully exercise their right to bargain collectively."
In January of this year, the McGuinty Liberals filed for leave to appeal to Canada's top court, leading to the announcement that a final appeal in the case will be allowed.
Hanley said the Ontario ruling striking down the AEPA was based on two earlier Supreme Court of Canada decisions declaring that collective bargaining is protected under "freedom of association" provisions in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
"Twice now the Supreme Court has ruled that labour rights are human rights," Hanley said in the union's release Thursday. "If in its wisdom the Supreme Court wants the opportunity to render a final definitive ruling, we must abide by that."
The union is taking its complaint against the McGuinty government to the International Labour Organization (ILO) on grounds "that the Ontario ban on farm unions contravenes two United Nations labour rights conventions that Canada is a signatory to."
Rol-Land Farms, the Windsor-area mushroom company at the heart of UFCW Canada's original court challenge against the AEPA, sought and got creditor protection in mid-December 2008 as "a result of current economic circumstances." It has not said what those circumstances are.
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