Alberta must revise labour law to grant agricultural workers the right to join unions

EDMONTON - In light of yesterday's ground-breaking Supreme Court ruling on the rights of farm workers, the Alberta government should move quickly to revise its labour laws to give agricultural workers the right to join unions, says the president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.

In an 8-1 decision, the Supreme Court declared yesterday that a section of the Ontario Labour Relations Act which prohibits agricultural workers from joining unions is unconstitutional because it violates the workers' right to freedom of association guaranteed under section two of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

AFL President Les Steel says that the Alberta Labour Code has a similar section restricting the rights of agricultural workers. Agricultural workers in Alberta are also excluded from the Employment Standards Code - meaning they have no legal protection when it comes to things like minimum wage, overtime, hours of work or vacations.

"These restrictions are relics of the past and deserve to be swept away," says Steel. "There's no reason why agricultural workers should not have the same rights as people working in other sectors of the economy."

The exclusions have been on the books for decades - dating back to the time when most farms were small, family-run operations. But Steel says agriculture has evolved into a corporate-style business - with factory farms and large, intensive livestock operations popping up all around the province.

"You can't say that people working in these kinds of large-scale agri-businesses are any different than people working in factories or warehouses," says Steel. "Denying these people the right to organize - and the right to have other protections in the workplace - is wrong, plain and simple."

Steel says he will raise the issue of rights for agricultural workers when he meets with Human Resources Minister Clint Dunford early in the New Year.

"This is not just an academic issue," says Steel. "Every year we get calls from agricultural workers complaining about their conditions of work and asking to join a union. In the past, we've had to explain that the laws were stacked against them. Now, thanks to the Supreme Court ruling, we can offer them some hope."

According to Statistics Canada, about 80,000 people are employed in Alberta's agricultural sector.

For further information, contact:

Les Steel, AFL President  @ (780) 483-3021 (wk) / (780) 499-4135 (cell)

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