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Uniting Food, Farm and Hotel Workers World-Wide

Landmark Contract for Seasonal Migrant Farmworkers in Canada

Posted to the IUF website 25-Jun-2008

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The first-ever collective bargaining agreement to apply to seasonal migrant workers in Canada has been overwhelmingly ratified by workers at Mayfair Farms, a fruit and vegetable producer in Portage la Praire, Manitoba. On June 20 workers voted 93% in favor of a 3-year agreement negotiated by the UFCW Canada, capping a 21-month struggle for union rights and representation.

The UFCW applied for official certification of the Mayfair workers' union in October 2006, when two-thirds of the workers - nearly all Mexicans recruited and employed through the Canadian federal government's Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP) - signed up for union representation. Mayfair Farms challenged the certification, arguing that the Mayfair Farm workers were not employees of the company, nor was the company an employer, since the labour was contracted by the Canadian and Mexican governments. The workers were therefore not to be considered as employees for collective bargaining purposes. The Manitoba Labour Board in a comprehensive decision last year rejected these contentions, invoking the language of the Manitoba Labour Relations Act that �employee means a person employed to do work and includes any person designated by the board as an employee for the purposes of this Act.� Mayfair functioned as an employer in, for example setting hours and conditions of work. "Viable and meaningful collective bargaining� was therefore possible, the Board ruled, and certified the union last June.

The ratification vote for the collective agreement means, in the words of the UFCW Canada, "That for the first time a group of migrant agricultural workers in Canada have a grievance procedure, a right to be recalled each season based on seniority, as well as other contract language to protect them from being evicted from their employer-owned lodgings, or expelled from Canada until their case is heard by an independent arbitrator.

"Equal labour rights for migrant workers is now more than a concept. It's a contract," said UFCW Canada National President Wayne Hanley. "It shows the way for thousands of other migrant and temporary workers brought to Canada for agriculture and other industries."