Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath with AWA national coordinator Stan Raper at the September 25 pledge signing.
The Ontario NDP has pledged to restore the rights of Ontario farm workers that were stripped away by the Harris Conservative government in 1995, if Andrea Horwath and her party form the next Ontario government. On September 25, the Ontario NDP leader signed a pledge to restore the collective bargaining and unionization rights of agriculture workers in Ontario: rights they last had under a previous Ontario NDP government.
In the early 1990's, under the then-led Ontario NDP government, legislation was introduced that allowed Ontario farm workers to unionize just like other workers in the province. But in 1995, newly elected Conservative Premier Mike Harris discarded that legislation, and re-introduced a farm union ban. Tim Hudak, the current leader of the Ontario PC party, was a member of the Harris caucus when the ban was instituted. Since then the discriminatory ban has been at the centre of a number of legal battles, including a recent decision by the International Labour Organization (ILO), an agency of the United Nations, that the Ontario ban violates the human rights of agriculture workers in Ontario.
The case was brought to the ILO by UFCW Canada, the country's largest private-sector union. In association with the Agriculture Workers Alliance (AWA), UFCW Canada also operates 10 agriculture worker support centres across Canada, including four in Ontario. For more than two decades UFCW Canada has led a campaign for enhanced labour, workplace and safety rights for agriculture workers. Throughout that time the Ontario NDP has consistently pressured the Ontario government to stand down from its farm ban and end the discrimination, including Horwath's latest pledge to take legislative action if she leads the next government.
"We commend Andrea Horwath and the NDP for standing up for full and equal rights for Ontario agriculture workers," says Wayne Hanley, the national president of UFCW Canada and the AWA. "Labour rights are human rights: something that for the past two decades has been brushed aside by the likes of Mike Harris, Tim Hudak, and the corporate industrial agriculture lobby which has made enormous profits on the backs of vulnerable farm workers. It is long overdue for Ontario agriculture workers to enjoy the same rights and protections as every other worker in Ontario."
If a Horwath government is elected its pledge would ultimately restore collective bargaining and union rights to more than 80,000 domestic and migrant workers in the Ontario agriculture industry.