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Union rips major mushroom farm over layoffs

The union that sought to organize workers at Canada’s biggest mushroom production company says Rol-Land Farms, now in creditor protection, is treating its foreign workers as “disposable tools.”

The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) represented three workers at the Blenheim, Ont. company in a court case which last month shot down Ontario’s ban on collective bargaining by farm workers. The company entered creditor protection two weeks ago.

UFCW president Wayne Hanley claimed in a release Tuesday that the company has scheduled the repatriation of over 50 Guatemalan workers, mostly women, to take place Dec. 28-30. The workers were in Canada under its Temporary Foreign Worker Program.

“These waves of firings and repatriations are testaments to the failures of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program,” Hanley said. “Canada needs programs that bring workers here as permanent residents, not programs that treat immigrants as second class workers and disposable tools.”

The Guatemalan workers’ terminations follow those of “over 70” workers from Mexico and Jamaica by the same company earlier this month, Hanley said.

According to the UFCW, many of the workers have said they can’t afford to be shipped home prematurely, as they haven’t yet earned enough to repay the loans they took out to pay for application fees, visas and medical exams required for the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.

“Rol-Land Farms is not an exception,” Chris Ramsaroop of Justicia for Migrant Workers said in UFCW’s release. “This practice fits into a pattern that we have seen across Canada, with workers employed under the various temporary foreign workers schemes.”

“The federal government and the provincial government have to start accepting responsibility for the treatment of migrant workers rather than passing the buck,” Hanley said. “The equal treatment of temporary foreign workers in this country is both a federal as well as a provincial responsibility.”

Rol-land bills itself as the third largest mushroom producer in North America, supplying about a million pounds of mushrooms a week to retailers across Canada and the U.S. It operates farms in Ontario, Alberta and Prince Edward Island, and also runs greenhouse and cropping operations.

The company’s creditor protection runs until Jan. 9, to “deal with its assets in a manner consistent with the preservation of its property and business.” Its bank is providing debtor-in-protection financing.

The company’s website said Wednesday that it is “currently not hiring for any positions” and it has disabled its online job application form for maintenance.

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