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Report/Press release

UFCW Canada takes fight for Ontario agriculture worker rights to Geneva




Agriculture Workers Alliance


Union files formal complaint with the International Labour Organization, charging Ontario’s ban on agriculture unions violates the human rights of Ontario farm workers.

Series title

AWA E-News

Responsible institution

Agriculture Workers Alliance

Full text

Union files formal complaint with the International Labour Organization, charging Ontario’s ban on agriculture unions violates the human rights of Ontario farm workers.

TORONTO, March 23, 2009 - UFCW Canada, the country’s largest private sector union has added international profile to its campaign to achieve collective bargaining rights for Ontario’s agriculture workers when on Monday it filed a formal complaint with the International Labour Organization (ILO) in Geneva, Switzerland. The ILO is a United Nations agency responsible for formulating international labour standards including basic labour rights including the right to unionize for the purposes of collective bargaining. That right is denied to Ontario farm workers under the province’s Agricultural Employees Protection Act (AEPA).

In a letter to ILO Director-General Juan Somavia, UFCW Canada president Wayne Hanley asked the United Nations agency to find the province and its AEPA in violation of ILO obligations that Canada pledged in 1972 on behalf of all citizens and levels of government to uphold. “The Government of Ontario needs to recognize that labour rights are human rights,” states Hanley. “All human rights are integrated and must be enforced. There can be no vibrant democracy if governments pick and choose which human rights they obey and defend.”

Hanley announced the formal complaint at a media conference at the Ontario Legislature, joined by Andrea Horwath, leader of the Ontario NDP; Wayne Samuelson, President of the Ontario Federation of Labour; and Ken Georgetti, President of the Canadian Labour Congress. The filing of the complaint on Monday coincided with the 37th anniversary of Canada’s ratification of the ILO’s Convention 87: Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize.

Under the Convention collective bargaining is considered a fundamental human right, yet the Ontario McGuinty government continues to aggressively defend a 1995 Mike Harris Conservative government change in legislation that removed that right from Ontario agriculture workers and eventually led to the creation of the AEPA. Last November, the Court of Appeal for Ontario upheld a UFCW Canada challenge of the AEPA as unconstitutional and gave Ontario 12 months to draft new legislation. Instead the McGuinty government has sought leave to appeal the ruling at the Supreme Court of Canada.

“For Ontario to continue to delay and deny the rights of agriculture workers is an international shame that flies in the face of justice and human rights,” said Hanley.
“We hope that ILO will strongly encourage the Ontario government to amend the AEPA so that all agriculture employees in the province are able to exercise their right to freedom of association in a meaningful way.”

For over a decade UFCW Canada has the led a cross-country campaign for justice for both domestic and migrant agriculture workers. In association with the Agriculture Workers Alliance it operates nine agriculture worker support centres across Canada.


Economic sectors

Agriculture and horticulture workers

Content types

Policy analysis

Target groups

(Im)migrants workers, Policymakers, Journalists, Public awareness, Employers, agencies and their representatives, Researchers, Unions, and NGOs/community groups/solidarity networks

Regulation domains

Right to unionize, Labour standards, and Health and safety at work

Geographical focuses

European Union and Ontario


French, English, and Spanish