Ottawa – September 17, 2014 – More than 100 migrant agriculture workers will now receive the EI Parental Benefits they were wrongfully denied by an Employment Insurance tribunal, in the wake of a successful legal battle supported by UFCW Canada, the Agriculture Workers Alliance, and argued by Niagara North Community Legal Assistance and the Income Security Advocacy Centre (ISAC).
On Tuesday, the workers were informed the denial of their applications for Parental Benefits had now been reversed after a review of the cases by the EI Commission. The review followed an order by the Federal Court of Appeal in 2013 requiring the Social Security Tribunal to re-hear the cases. "Justice has finally prevailed for some of the most vulnerable workers in Canada," says Paul Meinema, the National President of UFCW Canada. For more than two decades, UFCW Canada has led a campaign for the rights of migrant agriculture workers in Canada.
"The original decision to unilaterally deny their applications was arbitrary and unjust as the federal court pointed out. We are grateful that this latest decision rights that wrong. But we are also dismayed that since this case began, the Harper government stepped in to permanently deny other seasonal workers access to Parental Benefits, yet seasonal workers are still obliged to pay millions in EI premiums every year."
Despite paying into the EI system since 1966, migrant workers normally do not qualify for regular unemployment benefits. However they could access “special EI benefits” (including maternal, parental and compassionate benefits) – that was until 2012, when the Harper government clawed away even this limited right. The102 migrant workers impacted by this week's successful decision had filed their applications prior to the claw back.
"Migrant agriculture workers make a huge and positive contribution to our communities," said the UFCW Canada leader. "Migrant workers are parents too. The victory for the workers in this case is rightful and deserved. But shamefully, the same door has been slammed shut for thousands of other seasonal workers. The Harper government calls it regulation. The reality is, it is blatant discrimination and we will continue to fight it."
UFCW Canada represents more than 250,000 members across the country, including seasonal agriculture workers. In association with Agriculture Workers Alliance (AWA), Canada's leading union also operates 10 AWA worker support centres in Canada's major agriculture regions.