A major union in Canada’s food processing sector has signed a pact with a Mexican state to represent its residents while they work on Canadian farms.
The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW Canada) said on Tuesday that it has signed a co-operation agreement with Governor Leonel Godoy Rangel of the southwestern Mexican state of Michoacan.
The agreement, UFCW said in a release, is to “ensure that the human and labour rights of agricultural workers from Michoacan, Mexico are recognized and enforced while they work in Canadian fields and greenhouses.”
The union described the agreement as a “first-of-its kind North American agreement, where a state institution has partnered with a civil society organization to extend services and assistance to its citizens working outside of Mexico.”
Workers from Michoacan “will be able to access more information and services about Canadian labour laws and their rights, with the clear understanding that it is their right to do so and that it is supported by their own state,” UFCW Canada national president Wayne Hanley said. “This will make their working stay in Canada a better and healthier experience for them.”
The UFCW said it will partner with the Agriculture Workers Alliance (AWA), which operates nine support centres for migrant agricultural workers in Canada.
As part of the agreement, UFCW said, the AWA network of centres, staffed by Spanish-speaking staff, will offer “counseling and advocacy services regarding labour rights, housing conditions, medical claims and other work-related issues.”
The AWA centres will also offer the Michoacan workers workshops and information on health and safety, workers’ compensation claims, English and French as second languages, translation services and free long-distance phone access, UFCW said.
“Link for labour”
Michoacan, a Pacific coastal state, has a population of over four million people and is also well known in tourism circles as the home of North America’s overwintering sanctuaries for Monarch butterflies.
According to Mexican government figures from 2000, about 31 per cent of the state’s workforce is involved in agriculture-related activities.
Mexican migrant workers generally come to Canada under its Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP), a bilateral agreement between Canada and “sending” countries such as Mexico.
“Historically the SAWP agreement has excluded workers’ input regarding pay rates and housing conditions,” UFCW said in its release, further saying SAWP also “lacks an independent process, free of the threat of employer reprisals, to mediate workplace grievances.”
The SAWP “will continue to be an important link for labour between Mexico and Canada,” Hanley said. “We believe the new Michoacan/UFCW Canada proposal can make it even stronger by allowing the workers, the state they come from, and their advocate in Canada to work together to ensure the program is fair, safe and productive for all concerned.”