Commentary by Paul Meinema, National President
United Food and Commercial Workers Union – UFCW Canada
TORONTO – October 17, 2018 — While adult consumers now have the right to legally purchase cannabis, what about the workplace rights and safety of the thousands of cannabis workers at the centre of this burgeoning Canadian industry?
As the union that represents cannabis workers in a number of jurisdictions, we know that at both the production and retail level there are health and safety concerns that must be addressed through proper training and workplace inspection. Yet, while there are federal regulations covering the quality and purity of legal cannabis products, the safety and treatment of cannabis workers is essentially overlooked.
As one response, UFCW Canada has developed a state-of-the-art, online curriculum for members seeking training as a retail Cannabis Dispensary Specialist – to the advantage of both the consumer as well as the salesperson who should be well versed in product knowledge, its benefits, side effects, and safety concerns. In addition, UFCW cannabis members have ratified some of the strongest collective agreements in any industry, which include pension plans, health and welfare benefits, fair wages, and full protection of labour and safety rights.
But for non-union cannabis production workers, they may face a number of serious challenges to both their workplace safety and to their labour rights – particularly in jurisdictions like Ontario, where little to no industrial health and safety regulations currently exist for the agriculture industry. More than 60 percent of the country's licensed producers are based in Ontario – where it is legal to sell and grow cannabis, but not legal to join a union if you work in agriculture. In non-union workplaces, workers are often hesitant to raise health and safety concerns for fear of reprisal. Yet, the potential for concern is substantial in industrial agriculture operations with confined spaces, prolonged exposure to grow-lights, fertilizers, pesticides and mould.
As cannabis expands as a major Canadian industry, it must include comprehensive workplace safety and labour rights for every worker at every stage of the cannabis production chain. The federal and provincial governments, as well as consumers, should recognize that safety across the cannabis spectrum must also address the employment and labour conditions for all agriculture workers in Canada, including the right of agriculture workers to unionize in all jurisdictions.
It is an issue of safety, human rights and the ability to say “No” without the fear of reprisal to an unsafe workplace or workplace harassment. We are on the cusp of a tremendous new sector. Let’s get it right, not just for consumers, but also for the hard-working men and women who make the cannabis industry possible.