TORONTO, November 17, 2008 — The Ontario Court of Appeal has told the Ontario government to drop its ban on farm unions because it violates the Charter rights of Ontario's more than 100,000 agriculture workers. In a written decision delivered Monday, the court ruled that Ontario's Agricultural Employees Protection Act (AEPA), which currently denies Ontario farm workers the right to unionize, is a violation of Freedom of Association rights guaranteed under the Charter. The court has given the McGuinty government until November 17, 2009 to provide farm workers with
sufficient legislative protections to enable them to bargain collectively as other workers in the province.
"This is a victory for all agriculture workers in Ontario," said Wayne Hanley, the National President of UFCW Canada. "After decades of struggle on behalf of Ontario's farm workers, UFCW Canada is glad the courts have affirmed that the most vulnerable group of workers in Ontario is entitled to full union representation. Now it's time for the McGuinty Ontario government to join the 21st century and end this discriminatory gap in democracy as soon as possible."
UFCW Canada represents workers at a number of farms in British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Quebec. Last May it brought an appeal on behalf of three Ontario agricultural workers. In 2003, they along with most of their more than 200 fellow workers voted to create a UFCW Canada bargaining unit at a mushroom grow house factory farm in Kingsville, Ontario. The certificate was never issued because of the exclusion under the AEPA.
In Monday's ruling, the Ontario Court of Appeal agreed that the AEPA exclusion violated the workers' constitutional rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, section 2(d). The ruling was reinforced by a June 2007 precedent setting decision by the Supreme Court of Canada which ruled, "...the Section 2(d) guarantee of Freedom of Association protects the capacity of members of labour unions to engage in collective bargaining on workplace issues." (B.C. Health Services).
"This decision breathes new life into Freedom of Association in Ontario," said Hanley. "Most importantly, it gives agriculture workers a fundamental right which all other Ontario workers have had for over 60 years--the right to bargain collectively. Agriculture workers in Ontario will finally be able to negotiate with their employers without fear of penalty or reprisal."
"Finally, workplace democracy has reached the agriculture workers of Ontario."
UFCW Canada in association with the Agriculture Workers Alliance operates eight support centres across Canada for agriculture workers. UFCW Canada is also Canada's largest private-sector union with over 250,000 members across the country working in every sector of the food industry from field to table.