Friday, September 25, 2009

The following announcement is from the website of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW). It seems that their campaign to organize migrant farmworkers in Canada is bearing fruit, at least in the province of BC. The following is, of course, an official union announcement, and, as such, it avoids any 'hard spots' about this victory. To my mind is a very good thing, but it will take a great amount of attention on the part of the union to avoid screwing it up, as they did here in Manitoba.
Historic victory for migrant farm workers:
Contract sets new precedent for rights of workers
A breakthrough collective agreement was reached September 21 between UFCW Canada and Floralia Growers of Abbotsford, B.C.
The new UFCW Canada Local 1518 contract provides wage improvements, but is particularly noteworthy for the protections it establishes for the rights of seasonal migrant agriculture workers to return to Canada under the federal government’s Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP).
“We have had a lot interest from migrant farm workers in joining the union,” said Ivan Limpright, President of UFCW Canada Local 1518, “and this contract is a huge step forward in providing the kinds of basic protections and recall rights that migrant farm workers in Canada deserve.”
“These are among the most vulnerable workers in Canada, because too often when workers would dare complain, let alone join a union, the farm employers would make sure they didn’t call those workers back for the next season’s work, or just send them straight back to their home country,” said Limpright.
“This contract establishes a real measure of justice and dignity for the Floralia workers.”
The new contract establishes recall rights for migrant agriculture workers (one of the very important things that was neglected here in Manitoba-Molly ), and the union and employer have agreed to a process for recalling SAWP workers that will enhance workers’ opportunities to return year after year.
In addition, when the growing season slows down and a smaller workforce is needed, a process is now established whereby those volunteering to return home would be the first to go, and if necessary, other workers would then return to their home based on seniority.
“Previously, the workers would be ‘repatriated’, as the employers like to call it, and strictly at the employer’s whim,” said Limpright. “For example, we have had cases where there was a slowdown in the growing season and a worker volunteered to go home because his wife was pregnant or there was another family emergency, but the employer would refuse and send someone else home instead. Now, under this contract, the workers at least have some control over their own fates, and this is a huge and important breakthrough.”
The migrant agriculture workers at Floralia are from Mexico, and make up approximately 90 percent of the Floralia workforce.
In addition to recall rights, the crucial topic of overtime was also addressed in the new contract. It had been apparent that when workers developed an interest in joining UFCW, those workers were punished by having their overtime eliminated or minimized. (Another important point neglected in the efforts here in Manitoba- Molly )
The new contract has a process by which overtime will be balanced among all workers, and monitored so that it is not awarded by favouritism nor used as a form of punishment against workers interested in the union.
Other achievements in the contract include:
• contract language that will see workers paid for all hours worked from their start time forward. Previously, workers went unpaid for travel time between fields, which could be as much as 1.5 hours per day;
• The formation of a Health & Safety committee with worker representation;
• a procedure to address grievances;
• improvements for domestic agriculture workers as well - start rates for domestic workers went from the $8.00 minimum wage to $9.09 per hour, equivalent to what SAWP workers earn.
• Improvements to vacation language - a number of workers have been employed for two years of more, and under terms of the new contract, they will be entitled to 6 percent vacation pay with three years service, a substantial improvement for the workers.
• Wage increases set at SAWP rate-plus .10 cents, 10 cents, and 12 cents respectively in the final three years of the contract.

“I want to welcome our newest members,” said Limpright, “and we are delighted that at last these members have a voice and a say in their workplace. This is a big step forward, and should be a strong, positive signal to other farm workers, domestic and migrant alike, that joining the UFCW makes sense.”
"This a great victory for the workers at Floralia, who have exercised their Charter rights to join a union and bargain collectively," said UFCW Canada National President Wayne Hanley.
"The Charter is not stopped by provincial borders," said Hanley, "so it is shameful that Ontario and Alberta continue to trample the human rights of agricultural workers by blocking their access to unionize."
UFCW Canada in association with the Agriculture Workers Alliance operates a number of support centres across Canada for agriculture workers. UFCW Canada is also Canada's largest private-sector union with over 250,000 members across the country working in every sector of the food industry from field to table.

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