UFCW Canada victory for Quebec agriculture workers

March 12, 2013 - The Superior Court of Quebec has upheld a UFCW Canada challenge of a section of the Quebec Labour Code that had blocked many seasonal agriculture workers in Quebec from unionizing. The victory comes in the wake of a four-year battle at the Quebec Labour Commission and in the courts, to uphold a UFCW Canada Local 501 certification application made on behalf of migrant workers at the L’Écuyer/Locas farm in Quebec.

"This is a victory for the workers at L’Écuyer/Locas, and for all seasonal agriculture workers across Quebec," says Louis Bolduc, executive assistant to the National President. "Moving forward, agriculture operators in Quebec will no longer be able to hide behind a section of the labour code that clearly breached the Charter rights of seasonal agriculture workers."

The ruling, handed down March 11 by the Quebec Superior Court, upholds a UFCW Canada argument and a subsequent ruling by the labour commission that Section 21, Paragraph 5 of the Quebec Labour Code violated Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The section excluded agriculture workers from organizing at locations where less than three workers were employed continuously.

Because many agriculture locations go quiet in the winter, migrant and seasonal workers at those locations were essentially excluded from unionizing by Section 21, Paragraph 5. That was the argument the L’Écuyer/Locas operators made in challenging a certificate issued to Local 501 to represent workers there.

But in 2008, the labour commission agreed with UFCW Canada that Paragraph 5, Section 21 was unconstitutional and denied workers their Freedom of Association rights. An appeal of that ruling by L’Écuyer/Locas and the Quebec agriculture industry was struck down by this week's Quebec Superior Court ruling, and the decision of the labour commission has been upheld.

"This is good news for Quebec agriculture workers who had been specifically stopped by this section of the labour act in exercising their rights to organize," says Brother Bolduc. "The labour and human rights of all workers must be respected, including seasonal agriculture workers."

UFCW Canada currently represents nine agriculture units in Quebec, with other applications currently before the labour board. In association with the Agriculture Workers Alliance (AWA), UFCW Canada also operates ten agriculture worker support centres across Canada, including AWA centres in Saint-Rémi and Saint-Eustache, Québec.