Supreme Court decision on rights of agricultural workers unworkable

“The Courts interpretation of the AEPA is unworkable. The decision does not reflect the realities of collective bargaining on the ground and the unequal bargaining power between employers and farm workers.”

Montreal (29 April 2011) – The decision of Supreme Court of Canada’s (SCC) issued today regarding the labour rights of agricultural workers in Ontario is shocking and unworkable according to the Canadian Foundation on Labour Rights (CFLR).

CFLR was responding to the Court’s decision which will continue to deny agricultural workers in Ontario the same rights as other workers. The case brought by the United Food and Commercial Workers Canada (UFCW) constitutionally challenged Ontario’s Agricultural Employees Protection Act (AEPA) which denies agricultural workers the same collective bargaining rights granted to the majority of Ontario workers.

“The decision is shocking. I believe that the decision does not respond to the plight of agricultural workers and fails to recognize that the AEPA does not adequately protect one of the most vulnerable group of workers in Ontario,” said Veena Verma, a lawyer and Board Member on the Canadian Foundation for Labour Rights.

The Court held that AEPA does require employers to negotiate with agricultural workers in a “meaningful dialogue”. The Court made this finding despite the fact there is no such reference in the AEPA. The factual record before the court also showed the UFCW had previously attempted to negotiate with farm employers on behalf of farm workers and employers simply ignored their representations.

The decision comes after a trail of rulings from the courts attempting to define the scope of collective bargaining rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The Ontario Court of Appeal had previously held that agricultural workers must be granted rights similar to those granted to other workers in Ontario under the Labour Relations Act. The Supreme Court of Canada overturned that decision and found that employers only have to listen or read workers’ representations in a “meaningful” way, even if there is no mechanism to deal with how to resolve bargaining disputes.

“The Court maintains that collective bargaining is constitutionally protected and includes meaningful good faith negotiations between employers and employees. However, the AEPA provides no enforcement mechanism to resolve bargaining disputes. There is no point to having a right only in theory. If these rights cannot be realized in practice, they are in fact meaningless,” Ms Verma said.

“The Courts interpretation of the AEPA is unworkable. The decision does not reflect the realities of collective bargaining on the ground and the unequal bargaining power between employers and farm workers.”

Five months earlier, the United Nation’s International Labour Organization (ILO) reviewed AEPA and found that the absence of any machinery for the promotion of collective bargaining of agricultural workers constitutes an impediment to one of the principal objectives of the guarantee of freedom of association – the forming of independent organizations capable of concluding collective agreements. The ILO found that Canada and Ontario should take the necessary measures to put in place the machinery required to protect these rights. While the majority of the Supreme Court found international law relevant to its task at hand, it failed to even reference the ILO ruling.

“Contrary to the ILO findings, the Court found that freedom of association does not require parties to conclude an agreement or guarantee a dispute resolution mechanism,” said Ms Verma. “However, the labour movement will continue to press the Ontario government to do the right thing. Farm workers make a valuable contribution to Ontario’s economy and the Ontario government must reform labour laws to give unions and workers a framework in which they can effectively voice grievances towards making real improvements in their working conditions.”


The Canadian Foundation for Labour Rights (CFLR) is a national voice devoted to promoting labour rights as an important means to strengthening democracy, equality and economic prosperity here in Canada and internationally. The key objectives the Foundation has established for itself are to create greater public awareness and understanding of labour rights as a key critical component of human rights; build effective political momentum and public support for progressive labour law reform. CFLR


The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 340,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE

More information:

For further comment in English, contact Canadian Foundation for Labour Rights Board member, Veena Verma at 514-625-7869 or at  

For further comment in French, contact Canadian Foundation for Labour Rights Board member, Matthew Gapmann, at 514-908-6400 ext. 769 or at


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