Migrant ag workers gain contract breakthrough

About 70 migrant and temporary workers at a Quebec horticultural greenhouse have ratified a first-collective agreement that guarantees they are first in line when workers are hired to return the following season. The breakthrough contract at Luc Cléroux Incorporated not only provides a right of recall and seniority, but also a grievance and arbitration process as well as guaranteed wage increases.

“The days of the blacklist are over,” says Andrea Galvez, a UFCW Canada national representative who coordinates an Agriculture Workers Alliance (AWA) workers’ support centre in St-Remi, Quebec. “These workers can now stand up for their labour and safety rights without being fired, evicted and sent  home on the next plane while the Harper government and the consulates turn a blind eye. Finally these workers have a voice and a contract that protects it.”

The Luc Cléroux workers from Mexico and Guatemala ratified the contract on June 9. They are members of UFCW Canada Local 501 which filed to represent the workers last July after a majority of them joined the Local union. UFCW Canada is Canada’s largest private-sector union and represents domestic as well as migrant workers at a number of agriculture locations in British Columbia, Manitoba and Quebec. In partnership with the AWA, UFCW Canada supports the operation of 10 agriculture worker support centres across Canada, and has led the campaign for farm worker’s rights — including the right to unionize — since 1980.

“This first collective agreement at Luc Cléroux is a huge improvement on the lopsided deal imposed on migrant workers who come to work  in Canada, under a federal government system that brings them here and then dumps them at the farm gate to fend for themselves,” says Pierre Gingras, the president of UFCW Canada Local 501.

“We congratulate the members at Luc Cléroux for successfully standing up to the farm lobby while showing other workers that a good contract can be gained. Labour rights are human rights. This new contract means they’ll be respected.”

The Luc Cléroux contract comes just two months after a decision by the Quebec Labour Commission overturned a section of the labour code that restricted the rights of some Quebec farm workers at seasonal farms to unionize. The case was brought by UFCW Canada on behalf of workers at a Mirabel farm, who as a result of the ruling are now a UFCW Canada bargaining unit. Bargaining for a first-contract there is expected to begin before the end of June.

Vol. X No. 24 • June 21, 2010