By Mark Wales, Vice President of the Ontario Federation of Agriculture
On April 29, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled against allowing exclusive representation for farm workers. Eight out of the nine judges supported this decision. This is welcome news for the entire agriculture sector in Ontario and our provincial leaders should be applauded for vigorously defending this legislation. It brings certainty and closure to what has been a very long struggle.
Labour relations can be a confusing and complex issue for the uninitiated, and it is particularly so in the agricultural sector. What has been confirmed in this ruling is that farm workers are given protected rights at both the judicial and legislative levels through the Agricultural Employee Protection Act (AEPA). This Act provides a vehicle for the collective interest of farm workers, giving them the right to associate and ensure overall protection of workers’ rights. Together with mandatory coverage under WSIB and safe workplaces with Occupational Health and Safety regulations, Ontarians can be confident we have a good working environment for our farm workers to produce some of the best products in the world.
As we all know, the agricultural sector is subject to the uncertainty of global markets, seasonality, climate impact, family orientation and other factors that make it a very unique sector. Giving farm workers access to exclusive representation would have created a significant imbalance between worker and employer, and that would be detrimental for the agriculture sector.
The United Food and Commercial Workers International Trade Union argues that the AEPA disregards the Section 2(d) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms – the right of association. But when the Act was created, it mirrored the rights of association found within the Charter.
The Labour Issues Coordinating Committee is a coalition of farm organizations that includes the Ontario Federation of Agriculture – together, we applaud the Attorney General of Ontario for pursuing the appeal and stress our support for safe and fair workplaces for all Ontario farm workers.
Agriculture is a unique industry with unique labour relations needs. The AEPA strikes the right balance between employer and farm worker interests to protect everyone involved. It has even withstood the scrutiny of the highest court in Canada .
What should be made abundantly clear is that the OFA supports farm employers who provide a safe and fair workplace for all farm workers. There is no doubt that this is a good and fair decision to secure a sustainable agriculture sector in Ontario .