Ottawa – November 22, 2013 – Canada’s leading union and advocate for migrant workers is celebrating a November 19 decision by the Federal Court of Appeal that sides with more than one hundred seasonal farm workers, and active members of the Agriculture Workers Alliance (AWA), who were wrongly denied Employment Insurance parental benefits.
Since 1966, migrant workers have come to Canada each year to make an essential contribution to the country’s agriculture industry, and ever since then they have also contributed millions of dollars to the Employment Insurance system – but with far less access to benefits than most other workers in Canada.
Despite paying into the EI system, migrant workers could only access “special EI benefits” (including maternal, parental and compassionate benefits) – that was until 2012, when the Harper government clawed away any and all access.
Adding to the injustice, the government refused to accept “late” claims for any benefit rightfully earned prior to 2012. But, as the workers challenged, there is no deadline for applying for EI, as long as the worker can show a good reason for not applying earlier.
The Federal Court of Appeal ruled that migrant workers face “unique disadvantages in the Canadian labour market,” including ineligibility for many social benefits, denial of statutory protections enjoyed by other workers, social isolation and fear of employer reprisal and deportation. As such, the Court has ordered the Office of the Umpire to re-hear each of the 102 cases, and to keep these vulnerabilities in mind in assessing them.
“UFCW Canada joins migrant workers across the country in celebrating the Federal Court of Appeal’s decision,” says Paul Meinema, president of the UFCW Canada National Council. “The unanimous ruling by the court reaffirms the tremendous obstacles that migrant workers face in Canada, and it clearly demonstrates the injustice that exists in the Employment Insurance system. We also congratulate and thank many of our community allies for the pivotal role they played in helping to achieve this victory for agriculture workers and migrant rights,” adds Meinema, making reference to the outstanding contribution of social justice organizations like Niagara North Community Legal Assistance and the Income Security Advocacy Centre (ISAC) who led the legal case for the affected workers.