Let’s get the facts straight about seasonal agriculture workers’ unionization

Montreal – March 17, 2014 – UFCW Canada in Quebec considers that recent statements made by managing director of the Association des producteurs maraîchers du Québec (APMQ, ‘‘Quebec vegetable producers’ association’’) Andre Plante as well as by UPA (‘‘Quebec agricultural producers’ association’’) president Marcel Groleau regarding the seasonal farm workers’ right to join a union are unfortunate.

‘‘We understand, and find it regrettable, that those two agriculture leaders are obviously misinformed concerning UFCW Canada’s mission when it comes to seasonal agriculture workers and the positive contribution that our great organization makes as regards labour relations in agricultural businesses of all sizes’’, says Michel Tardif, who deals with farm workers’ matters at UFCW Canada Local 501.

Many articles published in newspapers, such as, in particular, Le Soleil, Le Journal de Québec and La Terre de chez nous, have quoted the words spoken by APMQ’s and UPA’s representatives. They state a number of ideas regarding migrant workers that we strongly wish to disprove and about which we should like to make a rebuttal. We are open to dialogue with employers and our objective is to reach a negotiated agreement in good faith that will benefit all parties.

1. Migrant farm workers do have the will to work as many hours as possible. Considering the short term of an employment contract and the constantly changing weather, they hope to have the guarantee of a specific number of working hours from their employers.

2. UFCW Canada has negotiated several union contracts with farms of all sizes and, on those farms, such collective agreements are carried out without any difficulty and with the need of little to no additional resources. If APMQ and UPA are so concerned about this, why do these organizations not provide consulting services to their members instead of spending thousands of dollars in legal fee to counter us?

3. The reason as to why UFCW Canada advocates for migrant agricultural workers’ rights has nothing to do with the fact that there are few Quebec workers in this area of work. Our organization’s raison d’être is to advance justice in workplaces and communities. So we are concerned about respect for the rights of all workers, from wherever they are.

4. We already have a simple structure, as UPA president says he would like to see. It is called the collective agreement. Why want to create a new process that would have similar purposes, if not identical ones?

5. Although all employment contracts negotiated by the various countries that are involved specify conditions such as the number of working hours, the hourly rate of pay or the housing provided, they yet have to be abided by and need to be compliant with existing laws. Moreover these contracts, which include minimal rules, are negotiated in the absence of workers and employers. As they gain the right to join a union, seasonal farm workers gain an equal footing with all Quebec workers, thus being able to aspire to working conditions that are better than the required minimum. Naturally we entirely support this principle, which is based on fundamental social justice values.  

6. Finally, is there any need to remind anyone that Freedom of Association is a right that all workers should be able to exercise freely and voluntarily, regardless of their area of work, the presence or absence of competition, and the size of the business?