AWA efforts bring justice to Ghesquiere farm workers
(L-R) Fanny Belcoski, coordinator AWA Simcoe centre; Stan Raper (centre), national coordinator AWA; and Carolina Ramirez, whose successful test claim filed by the AWA has opened the way for other Ghesquiere workers.
Workers at Ghesquiere Farms were owed back pay after the owner declared bankruptcy.
TORONTO - Thanks to the efforts of the Agriculture Workers Alliance/UFCW Canada, the door has been opened for about 130 migrant and domestic farm workers to get the back pay they were owed when the Ontario farm they worked at declared bankruptcy last fall.
Carolina Ramirez, a landed immigrant from Colombia who worked at the farm, recently received a cheque for more than $1,400 after the staff at the AWA centre in Simcoe, Ontario filed a test claim on her behalf under the Wage Earner Protection Act (WEPA).
The story goes back to November 2010, when workers from Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad, Mexico and Ontario were left stranded and owed weeks of back pay after the owner of the Ghesquiere Farm near Simcoe, Ontario filed for bankruptcy (see Directions 10.47). Within hours, staff at the AWA centre in Simcoe contacted the workers to ensure they were safe, and to investigate how to recoup the wages owed to them.
“We immediately contacted the Ontario Ministry of Labour, and the federal government to let them know what was happening,” says Stan Raper, the national coordinator of the AWA. “We were advised of the Wage Earner Protection Act, and immediately filed a test claim.”
The AWA and UFCW Canada efforts that got the process rolling could ultimately mean about a
quarter-of-a-million dollars in total will be recovered for the Ghesquiere workers.
“We’re glad a procedure is now in place for workers to finally get the money owed to them,” says Wayne Hanley, the national president of UFCW Canada. “At the same time, the stress and abuse the workers went through should never have happened in the first place if the Harper government properly monitored what goes on under its temporary foreign worker programs.”
“We will continue our long-standing efforts to ensure that the rights and safety of migrant farm workers are respected by the farm industry — and by the government.”
UFCW Canada is Canada’s largest private-sector union, with more than 250,000 members, including migrant farm workers at a number of Canadian agriculture operations.
In association with the AWA, UFCW Canada also operates ten agriculture worker support centres across Canada, and for more than two decades has been a leading advocate for the rights of both domestic and migrant farm workers.
Vol. XI No. 09 • February 28, 2011