Excerpt from the OH&S Canada magazine – January 2009
A landmark decision from the Court of Appeal for Ontario gives the province a year to table legislation to allow agricultural workers to bargain collectively.
In its ruling, the three-member panel unanimously declared Ontario’s Agricultural Employees Protection Act (AEPA) “unconstitutional” and “invalid,” ordering the provincial government to “provide agricultural workers with sufficient protections to enable them to exercise their right to bargain collectively.”
Overturning a January, 2006 decision by the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, the high court determined the AEPA violates the freedom of association guarantees under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
“The AEPA is unconstitutional in that it substantially impairs the right of agricultural workers to bargain collectively because it provides no statutory protections for collective bargaining,” Justice Warren Winkler writes in the decision, released on November 17. “The bargaining process is jeopardized if the parties have nothing to which they can resort in the face of fruitless bargaining,” Justice Winkler notes.
Currently, the AEPA allows workers to join an “employees’ association.” The act, however, “does not impose an obligation on employers to bargain in good faith — or, indeed, to bargain at all — with an employees’ association.”
The appeal was brought by current and former employees of Rol-Land Farms Ltd., a mushroom factory in Kingsville, Ontario. In 2002, some company workers approached the United Food and Commercial Workers Canada (UFCW) to represent them. Because Rol-Land refused to recognize the UFCW as the workers’ representative, the union applied for certification to the Ontario Labour Relations Board.
“Given the vulnerability of agricultural workers, the evidence shows that it has been virtually impossible for agricultural workers to organize and bargain collectively with their employers,” the ruling says.
Stan Raper, national co-ordinator of the UFCW’s agricultural workers’ program, says he is “ecstatic” with the ruling. “There is some urgency with regards to the plight of agricultural workers in the province,” Raper says.
Ken Forth, labour chair of the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association in Guelph, Ontario, says he has some concerns about the economic bottom line of farms. “In the fruit and vegetable industry, we’re talking about a matter of hours where that crop is gone,” Forth says. “[If a] strike ended a week later, there would be no farm left; the production would all be rotted.”
There is an Ontario regulation for ‘Farming Operations’. (reg. 414/05) I have found that the family farms are as yet, not a high priority but the commercial farm issues are certainly being looked at.
Worker safety is a priority to the MOL and farm workers, especially, the migrant workers, can easily get hurt with little or compensation. I hope this farm learns that working conditions for their staff is as important as it would be anywhere else.
Remember – In Ontario, “ALL Accidents are Preventable”
HRS Group Inc. has a great team that can help you with all your health and safety needs including ‘Due Diligence’ and ‘Standard Operating Procedures’. Contact Deborah toll free at 1-877-907-7744 or locally at 705-749-1259.
‘Work’ and ‘Play’ safe.
Daniel L. Beal
CHSEP – Foundation Level
VP & Senior Trainer
HRS Group Inc.