Magazine article Canadian Dimension

Reasons for Farm Workers to Be Optimistic

Magazine article Canadian Dimension

Reasons for Farm Workers to Be Optimistic

Article excerpt

As farming operations have become more and more concentrated and industrialized over the past two decades, conditions in the industry are becoming more and more similar to those experienced in traditional industrial settings. The capacity of farm workers to organize has thereby increased. Furthermore, the evolution of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms has given labour groups one tool to challenge their exclusion from govern mental protections. These changes, combined with ongoing grassroots organizing by groups like the FCW, Justicia for Migrant Workers (J4MW) and KAIROS (an ecumenical social-justice group), in conjunction with formal legal challenges, have began to reap some benefits.

The biggest victory to date was a Liberal announcement last year that, starting in June, 2006, farm workers will for the first time be protected under Ontario's Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA). The change will extend existing health-and-safety provisions that most workers already take for granted--like the right to be notified of workplace hazards or to refuse to work in unsafe conditions. But both the UFCW and Osgoode Hall's Eric Tucker are quick to point out that the lack of agricultural-specific regulations and limited resources regarding enforcement could limit the importance of the change.

Gaining recognition for the right of farm workers to unionize and strike has not been as successful. Farm workers are still barred from bar gaining collectively and from forming a certified union. Since 1993, the UFCW has been engaged in a near continuous court battle to challenge this exclusion, and despite a minor victory here and there little progress has been made. For example, in 2001 the Supreme Court struck down a statute that prevented workers from forming employee associations that had been passed in 1995 by Mike Harris' Conservative government. …

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