April 3, 2009 By The Canadian Press
April 3, 2009 – Another chapter in a long-running and bitter battle between Ontario and some of its most vulnerable workers was opened Thursday when the Supreme Court of Canada agreed to hear the province's case against farm-worker unions.
Another chapter in a long-running and bitter battle between Ontario and some of its most vulnerable workers was opened Thursday when the Supreme Court of Canada agreed to hear the province's case against farm-worker unions.
The decision by the country's top court to grant the province leave to appeal was greeted with disappointment and anger by the union that has been pressing what it sees as a human-rights fight.
"We're disappointed that the justice delayed to Ontario farm workers will be further delayed,'' said Wayne Hanley, national president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Canada.
"We're also enraged that the Ontario government has chosen to continue denying the human rights of the province's most vulnerable workers.''
In November, the Ontario Court of Appeal decided a provincial law barring agricultural workers from bargaining collectively was unconstitutional.
The Liberal government then sought leave to appeal from the Supreme Court, which will now take about six to nine months before it hears the case.
The province's agriculture and labour ministers refused to comment Thursday but the opposition New Democrats called it a "sad day'' for the province's 70,000 agriculture workers.
The battle has been raging since the mid-1990s, when the newly minted Conservative government of former premier Mike Harris repealed the ability of the workers to unionize.
Although the workers had never had the right to strike they were able to bargain collectively, something the Harris government called a threat to "family farms.''
The union, which never sought the right to strike, always maintained it was concerned with large-scale industrialized operations that operate in many ways like any other manufacturing
plant. At one such operation, a mushroom factory, the union organized about 300 workers.
After a series of court decisions, the Supreme Court of Canada rejected the Ontario law as unconstitutional because it denied the workers freedom of association.
To get around the ruling, the Conservative government, under Harris' successor Ernie Eves, rewrote the law to allow farm workers the right to form associations _ but still barred them from collective bargaining.
The union said that amounted to giving them the right to join a club and launched a new wave of litigation that continued under the current Liberal government of Premier Dalton McGuinty.
Last month, the UFCW complained to the United Nations about the Ontario government.
"The actions of the McGuinty government and the corporate farm lobby are shaming Canada's international reputation,'' Hanley said Thursday.
"As Canadians, we can't stand back while human rights get trampled in our own backyard.''
In 2007, the country's highest court affirmed that the right to collective bargaining is guaranteed under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Print this page