Migrant farm workers sign first collective agreement

Posted by admin on Jun 25th, 2008

CBC News. June 25, 2008 

Migrant workers at a farm in Portage La Prairie have agreed to a three-year collective agreement, the first of its kind for migrant workers in Canada. In a landmark decision last June, the Manitoba Labour Board certified the United Food and Commercial Workers at Mayfair Farms near Portage la Prairie, making its approximately 60 employees, mostly from Mexico, the first unionized group of foreign farm workers in Canada. The new agreement, signed June 20, includes wage increases in each year of the collective agreement, with the first increase retroactive to April 21. It also provides the workers with recall rights, a grievance procedure and a new system for allocating overtime pay.

The contract could improve the ability of farms to attract migrant workers, said Robert Ziegler, president of UFCW local 832.

“As a union, we’re trying to find good working conditions and make improvements,” he said.

“Is it possible that other farms could get involved? Absolutely. But really, we went into this not to try and build our numbers, but to try and represent and improve the quality of life.”

The union applied for certification at the farm in September 2006, saying more than 65 per cent of the workers had signed union cards, which under Manitoba law entitles the group to automatic union certification.

Mayfair Farms argued the case fell under federal jurisdiction because the workers are brought to Canada through a federal program. But in its decision, the board determined the provincial Labour Relations Act did apply to the workers and Mayfair Farms was their employer.

A month after the union applied for certification, 43 of the workers signed statements saying they had been misled by the union and did not want to join. But the labour board was not swayed by their objections, saying they did not allege misconduct.

The workers can apply to decertify their local, but only after their first collective agreement has been in place for one year.

Ziegler said the Mayfair contract is a major step forward in providing equal labour rights for migrant workers in Canada.

Negotiations are currently underway in Quebec for migrant farm workers who also joined the UFCW last year.

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