Monday, June 7, 2010

Quebec Farm Workers can Unionize

Agricultural workers are frequently exempted from statutory employment rights in Canada. In recent years, this has been changing. For example, Ontario has been compelled to provide farm workers with the ability to unionized and collectively bargain , although this is presently under appeal to the Supreme Court and Manitoba has included agricultural workers in its employment standards legislation.

Last week, the Quebec Labour Relations Board ruled that Labour Code provisions of the that effectively preclude seasonal farm workers from gaining collective bargaining rights breaches the freedom of association guaranteed in s.2(d) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The provision required a minimum of three workers be "continuously" employed at a farm if collective bargaining rights are sought, works against seasonal migrant workers (mainly from Latin America). As a result, the LRB certified a bargaining unit of six Mexican migrant workers at a vegetable farm near Mirabel.

Here in Alberta, farm workers are excluded from minimum wage, hour of work, overtime, vacation pay, general holiday pay, rest periods and child labour provisions of the Employment Standards Code. The Labour Relations Code precludes farm workers from organizing and the Occupational Health and Safety Act does not apply. Finally, employers are not required to have workers’ compensation coverage for farm workers. No other province is a thorough as Alberta in excluding agricultural workers from basic statutory employment rights.

An interesting question is why does Alberta treat farm workers this way? While too long to summarize in a blog post, this article suggests how the interests of farmers, the state and capital intertwine to maintain this arrangement. It is unclear how long Alberta will be able to resist the current wave of constitutional arguments against these exclusions.

-- Bob Barnetson

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