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UFCW Canada Wins Health and Safety Protection for Ontario Agricultural Workers

Posted to the IUF website 06-Jul-2005

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Agricultural workers in Ontario have won an important victory and the right to health and safety protection on the job through inclusion in the provincial Occupational Health and Safety Act (OSHA). Canadian agricultural workers, like farmworkers in the USA, are specifically excluded from national legislation governing industrial relations and trade union rights. The decision by the Ontario Ministry of Labour to give full protection to approximately 100,000 workers by June 30, 2006 came in response to a UFCW legal challenge to the OSHA exclusion as a violation of agricultural workers' constitutional right to equality under the law.

Inclusion in OSHA gives agricultural workers, like workers in other sectors, the right to refuse unsafe work, the right to be informed of occupational hazards, and the right to be included in workplace health and safety committees. Agricultural workers in Ontario, however, still have no legal right to join a union and bargain collectively. In 1990, when Ontario was governed by the New Democratic Party, legislation was adopted affirming agricultural workers' right to form unions. The law was replaced with a new ban on union organization in the sector when the provincial Tory party came to power in 1995. In 2001, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down this legislative exclusion, resulting in Ontario's "Agricultural Employees Protection Act" of 2003. This law gives Ontario farmworkers the "right" to form "associations" but denies them the right to join a union, bargain collectively or go on strike - a form of Canadian "solidarismo", or Latin American-style yellow unionism.

The UFCW in Ontario, which operates support centers to service migrant agricultural workers, continues to press for full trade union rights. UFCW Canada national director responded to the OSHA decision by stating that "We're glad that Ontario agricultural workers finally will have the basic workplace health and safety protections that other workers have always taken for granted. We've supported their struggle for more than a decade and we'll continue to press for equal rights for domestic and migrant agricultural workers, including the right to unionize."