UFCW Canada has filed a formal complaint with the ILO asking the body to investigate the denial of collective bargaining rights to farm workers by the government of Ontario.
Ottawa (25 March 2009) - Another major union is turning to the International Labour Organization (ILO) to pressure Canadian politicians to live up to their international obligations and defend legitimate labour rights in Canada.
This time it is the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW Canada), the largest private sector union in Canada. On Monday UFCW Canada filed a formal complaint with the ILO asking the body to investigate the denial of collective bargaining rights to farm workers by the government of Ontario.
The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) has filed several similar complaints in the past about violations of international treaties and won rulings condemning several governments within Canada for violations of labour rights.
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.
The ILO is the United Nations agency responsible for formulating international labour standards and basic labour rights, including the right to unionize for the purposes of collective bargaining. Ontario farm workers are specifically denied this right by the province’s Agricultural Employees Protection Act (AEPA).
Signed in 1972
In a letter to ILO Director-General Juan Somavia, UFCW Canada president Wayne Hanley has asked the ILO to find the province and the AEPA in violation of ILO obligations that Canada pledged in 1972 on behalf of all citizens and all levels of government to uphold.
“The Government of Ontario needs to recognize that labour rights are human rights,” says Hanley. “All human rights are integrated and must be enforced. There can be no vibrant democracy if governments pick and choose which human rights they obey and defend.”
Hanley announced the complaint at a media conference at the Ontario Legislature where he was joined by Andrea Horwath, the new leader of the Ontario NDP; Wayne Samuelson, president of the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL) and Ken Georgetti, president of the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC).
Monday coincided with the 37th anniversary of Canada’s ratification of the ILO’s Convention 87: Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize.
Fundamental human right
Under the convention, collective bargaining is considered a fundamental human right. However, the Ontario government of Premier Dalton McGuinty continues to aggressively defend a 1995 Mike Harris Conservative government change in legislation that removed that right from Ontario agriculture workers and eventually led to the creation of the AEPA.
Last November, the Ontario Court of Appeal upheld a UFCW Canada challenge of the AEPA as unconstitutional and gave Ontario 12 months to draft new legislation. Instead of accepting the decision, the McGuinty government is appealing the case to the Supreme Court of Canada.
“For Ontario to continue to delay and deny the rights of agriculture workers is an international shame that flies in the face of justice and human rights,” says Hanley.
“We hope that the ILO will strongly encourage the Ontario government to amend the AEPA so that all agriculture employees in the province are able to exercise their right to freedom of association in a meaningful way.”
UFCW Canada, with the strong support of NUPGE and a number of other labour groups, has led a national campaign in Canada for more than a decade to organize domestic and migrant farm workers. In association with the Agriculture Workers Alliance (AWA) it operates nine agriculture worker support centres across the country.
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
NUPGE's Labour Rights Page