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Ontario law covering farm workers found constitutionally invalid


November 17, 2008
By The Canadian Press

Nov. 17, 2008, Toronto — An
Ontario law meant to protect farm workers is unconstitutional because
it infringes on collective bargaining rights, the Ontario Court of
Appeal ruled Monday. The Ontario government must draft new legislation
within 12 months to replace the Agricultural Employees Protection Act,
the court said.

Nov. 17, 2008, Toronto — An Ontario law meant to protect farm workers is unconstitutional because it infringes on collective bargaining rights, the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled Monday. The Ontario government must draft new legislation within 12 months to replace the Agricultural Employees Protection Act, the court said.

The decision followed a challenge from mushroom farm workers whose employer had continuously ignored attempts at a collective bargaining process. The court said the workers’ experience was not unusual. “Given the vulnerability of agricultural workers, the evidence shows that it has been virtually impossible for agricultural workers to organize and to bargain collectively with their employers without statutory supports,” the decision reads. “Under the (Agricultural Labour Relations Act), the parties have not pointed to any instance where a union or employees’ association has successfully organized and then been able to engage in the process of good faith collective bargaining on behalf of agricultural workers’ in Ontario.’’

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The Agricultural Employees Protection Act, enacted in 2003 because farm workers were excluded from the Labour Relations Act, protected the workers’ freedom to organize. On Monday, the court cited a Supreme Court ruling on B.C. Health Services in finding that the Ontario law is unconstitutional because it does not protect the workers’ right to collective bargaining. “Taking into account the change in the legal landscape, I conclude that the (act) substantially impairs the capacity of agricultural workers to meaningfully exercise their right to bargain collectively,’’ the court said in its decision.
The government now must draft new legislation that balances the agriculture workers’ rights with concerns about the family farm and the viability of the agricultural sector, the court said. Sherry Persaud, a spokeswoman for Agriculture Minister Leona Dombrowsky, would only say that the minister is reviewing the ruling along with other ministries.

Workers at Rol-Land Farms Ltd. in Kingsville, Ont., raised the challenge after a significant majority of the employees of the farm, which the court said has annual sales of nearly $50 million, voted to have the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Canada act as their bargaining agent. “Despite this mandate from the employees, Rol-Land has continuously ignored the UFCW’s attempts to engage in a collective bargaining process,’’ the decision said. “According to the record, the experience of the UFCW and the employees of Rol-Land does not appear to be unique in the Ontario agricultural industry.’’

 


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