Ontario labour challenge taken to UN

March 23, 2009
Written by UFCW Canada
March 23, 2009, Toronto — UFCW Canada, the country’s largest private sector union, has added an international profile to its campaign to achieve collective bargaining rights for Ontario’s agriculture workers when on Monday it filed a formal complaint with the International Labour Organization (ILO) in Geneva, Switzerland.

The ILO is a United Nations agency responsible for formulating international labour standards including basic labour rights including the right to unionize for the purposes of collective bargaining. That right is denied to Ontario farm workers under the province’s Agricultural Employees Protection Act (AEPA).

In a letter to ILO Director-General Juan Somavia, UFCW Canada National president Wayne Hanley asked the United Nations agency to find the province and its AEPA in violation of ILO obligations that Canada pledged in 1972 on behalf of all citizens and levels of government to uphold.

“The Government of Ontario needs to recognize that labour rights are human rights,” states Hanley. “All human rights are integrated and must be enforced. There can be no vibrant democracy if governments pick and choose which human rights they obey and defend.”

Hanley announced the formal complaint at a media conference at the Ontario Legislature, joined by Andrea Horwath, leader of the Ontario NDP; Wayne Samuelson, president of the Ontario Federation of Labour; and Ken Georgetti, president of the Canadian Labour Congress. The filing of the complaint on Monday coincided with the 37th anniversary of Canada’s ratification of the ILO’s Convention 87: Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize.

The ILO complaint follows a November 2008 decision by the Court of Appeal for Ontario. The court ruled that Ontario legislation that prevents farm workers from unionizing is unconstitutional, and ordered the Ontario government to change the legislation within 12 months. Instead, the Ontario government has applied for Leave to Appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada to review the decision.

“For Ontario to continue to delay and deny the rights of agriculture workers is an international shame that flies in the face of justice and human rights,” said Hanley. “We hope that ILO will strongly encourage the Ontario government to amend the AEPA so that all agriculture employees in the province are able to exercise their right to freedom of association in a meaningful way.”

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