MONTREAL, April 29 /CNW/ - The decision of the Supreme Court of Canada
(SCC) today regarding the labour rights of agricultural workers in
Ontario is shocking and unworkable according to the Canadian Foundation
on Labour Rights (CFLR).
CFLR was responding to the Court's decision which will continue to deny
agricultural workers in Ontario the same rights as other workers. The
case brought forward by the United Food and Commercial Workers Canada
constitutionally challenged Ontario's Agricultural Employees Protection
Act ("AEPA") which denies agricultural workers the same collective
bargaining rights granted to the majority of Ontario workers.
"The decision is shocking. I believe that the decision does not respond
to the plight of agricultural workers and fails to recognize that the
AEPA does not adequately protect one of the most vulnerable group of
workers in Ontario," said Veena Verma, a lawyer and Board Member on the
Canadian Foundation for Labour Rights.
The Court held that AEPA does require employers to negotiate with
agricultural workers in a "meaningful dialogue". The Court made this
finding despite the fact there is no such reference in the AEPA. The
factual record before the court also showed the UFCW had previously
attempted to negotiate with farm employers on behalf of farm workers
and employers simply ignored their representations.
The decision comes after a trail of rulings from the courts attempting
to define the scope of collective bargaining rights under the Charter
of Rights and Freedoms.
The Ontario Court of Appeal had previously held that agricultural
workers must be granted rights similar to those granted to other
workers in Ontario under the Labour Relations Act. The Supreme Court of
Canada overturned that decision and found that employers only have to
listen or read workers' representations in a "meaningful" way, even if
there is no mechanism to deal with how to resolve bargaining disputes.
"The Court maintains that collective bargaining is constitutionally
protected and includes meaningful good faith negotiations between
employers and employees. However, the AEPA provides no enforcement
mechanism to resolve bargaining disputes. There is no point to having a
right only in theory. If these rights cannot be realized in practice,
they are in fact meaningless," Ms Verma said.
"The Court's interpretation of the AEPA is unworkable. The decision does
not reflect the realities of collective bargaining on the ground and
the unequal bargaining power between employers and farm workers."
Five months earlier, the United Nation's International Labour
Organization (ILO) reviewed AEPA and found that the absence of any
machinery for the promotion of collective bargaining of agricultural
workers constitutes an impediment to one of the principal objectives of
the guarantee of freedom of association - the forming of independent
organizations capable of concluding collective agreements. The ILO
found that Canada and Ontario should take the necessary measures to put
in place the machinery required to protect these rights. While the
majority of the Supreme Court found international law relevant to its
task at hand, it failed to even reference the ILO ruling.
"Contrary to the ILO findings, the Court found that freedom of
association does not require parties to conclude an agreement or
guarantee a dispute resolution mechanism," said Ms Verma. "However, the
labour movement will continue to press the Ontario government to do the
right thing. Farm workers make a valuable contribution to Ontario's
economy and the Ontario government must reform labour laws to give
unions and workers a framework in which they can effectively voice
grievances towards making real improvements in their working
The Canadian Foundation for Labour Rights (CFLR) is a national voice
devoted to promoting labour rights as an important means to
strengthening democracy, equality and economic prosperity here in
Canada and internationally. The key objectives the Foundation has
established for itself are to create greater public awareness and
understanding of labour rights as a key critical component of human
rights; build effective political momentum and public support for
progressive labour law reform.
SOURCE NATIONAL UNION OF PUBLIC AND GENERAL EMPLOYEES
For further information:
For further comment in English, contact Canadian Foundation for Labour Rights Board member, Veena Verma at 514-625-7869 or at firstname.lastname@example.org
For further comment in French, contact Canadian Foundation for Labour Rights Board member, Matthew Gapmann, at 514-908-6400 ext. 769 or at email@example.com