(Canadian OH&S News) — The United Food and Commercial Workers Canada (UFCW) union is denouncing a provincial bill that recently passed into law in Quebec, claiming that it discriminates against farm workers by taking away their right to unionize and participate in collective bargaining.
Bill 8, or An Act to amend the Labour Code with respect to certain employees of farming businesses, removes the fifth paragraph of Section 21 of the Quebec Labour Code and adds a passage of “Special Provisions Applicable to Farming Businesses,” which clarifies how employees may now communicate concerns about work conditions to their employers. It also narrows the definition of a “farming business” to being “an enterprise that… ordinarily and continuously employs fewer than three employees.”
In a press statement posted on UFCW Canada’s website on Oct. 24, the union said that the new law could potentially strip some agricultural workers of their basic human rights.
“Section 21.5 of the old Labour Relations Act basically was established to protect small family farms,” said UFCW Canada national rep Stan Raper. “The bill, the way it was written, you had to have three ordinary full-time workers or more to fall under the Labour Relations Act; everyone else was excluded.” So on a farm with two full-time workers but 60 seasonal employees, he said by way of example, “those 60 seasonal workers aren’t covered.”
In workplaces with fewer than three full-time agricultural workers, the press statement added, the legislation allows only for undefined “associations” that have the right to “inform” employers of workplace issues.
Other Quebec sectors that rely on seasonal workers, like golf courses and ski resorts, are left untouched by the legislation’s ban on unionization, UFCW has noted, so Bill 8’s most destructive effect will likely be on agriculture.
Raper explained that the union had made efforts to express its concerns to the Quebec National Assembly, via discussions and a brief presented on Sept. 9. “We decided that we would approach it kind of similarly by trying to see if we could not get an amendment to the act before they implemented Bill 8,” he said. “They did listen to us, but at the end, decided to proceed without any amendment, so what we have is basically the same piece of legislation.”
Bill violates Charter of Rights, UFCW argues
After UFCW’s presentation to the assembly, the Quebec Human Rights Commission also warned against passing Bill 8, calling it a potential violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. But the bill became law nonetheless.
“Clearly, industry is pretty powerful,” Raper said, “and they continue to use this line about, ‘We need to save small family farms from unionization.’ I don’t know how many times UFCW can say, ‘We’re not interested in small family farms. There are enough big corporate factory farms out there to keep us busy for a long time.’”
Raper didn’t expect the new legislation to affect larger farms. “Smaller operations in Quebec, they may actually try to downsize or contract out in order to meet the criteria of not having their workers being able to unionize. We certainly see that as a scenario,” he said. “Small family farms will continue to be what they are, struggling to compete against large corporate farms, and I don’t think Bill 8 helps small family farms either. So it’s frustrating.
“We’re looking for equality here, and Bill 8 does not provide that.”
To download the text of Bill 8, visit http://www.assnat.qc.ca/en/travaux-parlementaires/commissions/CET/mandats/Mandat-25511/index.html.