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Wednesday, July 24, 2024 | Back issues
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Union Fights Mexican Consulate in Canada

VANCOUVER, B.C. (CN) - A labor union fighting to keep farmworkers certified claims Mexico is not immune from unfair labor practice complaints for interfering with the constitutional rights of migrant laborers in British Columbia.

The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 1518 sued the United Mexican States in claims in B.C. Supreme Court.

The union claims that the B.C. Labour Relations Board wrongly found that Mexico was protected by the State Immunity Act against the union's complaints.

The UFCW had to fight to certify a bargaining unit for migrants under the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP) at a blueberry farm owned by nonparty Sidhu & Sons Nursery.

After winning the right to bargain, the union filed a bad-faith bargaining complaint against the company. A collective agreement eventually was imposed on the union and the employer, according to the new petition.

The Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program, which began in 1974, "bestows special rights and privileges to Mexico to allow its citizens to work in Canada," according to the petition.

More than 208,000 workers have come to Canada under the program in the 36 years. Remittances from Mexican workers outside the country have become the country's second-biggest source of revenue after oil.

In 2011, certain employees of Sidhu & Sons filed to cancel the union's certification, and the UCFW hit back with an unfair labor practices complaint against Mexico.

The union claims the Mexico violated the Labor Code "by refusing to allow Mexican workers who they believe are pro-union to return to Canada."

It claims employers asked the Consul General of Mexico in Vancouver to refuse the pro-union employees the right to return to Canada or not allow them to work at union shops in the future.

The UFCW claims employees were intimidated into signing the decertification application. It claims that the "Mexican Consulate's disdain for trade unions is pervasive and institutionalized."

Mexico's official name, translated, is the United States of Mexico. Though unions have had a strong presence in the country since the 1910-1917 revolution, they have operated under the heavy hand of the federal government and the Institutional Revolution Party, or PRI, which ran the country for more than 70 years, and again occupies the president's palace.

The union claims the B.C. consulate has been waging "a concerted battle to rid BC SAWP employers of any and all involvement from trade unions in general, and the [UCFW] in particular. The Consulate instructs all workers upon arrival to BC not to contact the Union or any of its representatives. Consulate staff berate workers when the Consulate learns that they have contacted the Union and threatens them with expulsion from the SAWP program. What's more, the Consulate has followed through on these threats, and has blacklisted numerous workers who are now deprived of the Canadian income to which they would otherwise have access," according to the complaint.

While the Labour Relations board found that Mexico enjoyed state immunity, the union claims that when it filed to have the board reconsider the decision, Mexico cherry-picked evidence, objected to the union's evidence under the State Immunity Act, but not to evidence presented by Sidhu & Sons, a SAWP employer.

The labor board dismissed the UFCW's complaints under the State Immunity Act.

Now the union seeks judicial review of the decision.

"Farm work is increasingly performed by hired labour rather than farm owners and their families. Agricultural work is done by vulnerable workers, including a large proportion of immigrant and migrant workers, who are recruited specifically because of their vulnerability in the workforce," the petition states. "Their vulnerability is and has historically been reinforced by their exclusion from basic labour and employment protections with the result that foreign workers, such as SAWP employees, have a very limited sense of legal entitlement."

The union is represented by Chris Buchanan with the Hastings Labour Law Office in Vancouver.

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