Foreign Farm Workers Unionize: A First in BC
Seasonal labourers in Surrey claim bad conditions, vote to join UFCW
Tom Sandborn

For the first time, foreign workers imported to pick B.C. crops have been allowed to join a union.

Migrant workers at Greenway Farms in Surrey have voted to join the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) of Canada. The historic certification was granted with the support of more than 75 per cent of the roughly 40 affected workers. Never before had B.C.'s Labour Relations Board approved a union to represent workers brought to Canada under the federal Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program.

The Surrey certification comes on the heels of a seasonal workers contract in Manitoba and is the result of a UFCW organizing drive that began in 1995. Union sources have told The Tyee that four farms in Quebec also face the prospect of unionization.

"I am pleased to hear this," said Raj Chouhan, the NDP MLA for Burnaby-Edmonds, and the founder of an earlier attempt to unionize B.C. farms. "Workers are finally getting some protection.... We need all the support we can get for farm workers."

The Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP) matches foreign workers, primarily from the Caribbean and Mexico, with agricultural employers who claim they cannot find Canadian employees. The program began in eastern Canada in 1966 and has been bringing Mexican workers to B.C. farms since 2004. It has been criticized, by observers who see it as a way of keeping wages in agriculture low and institutionalizing the exploitation of vulnerable guest workers, historically a group very hard to unionize....

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Getting by is getting harder for those in "casual" jobs

Fiona MacPhail and Paul Bowles

Many experts are puzzling over a paradox in BC's economy - why have years of solid growth and low unemployment failed to translate into improved earnings for those in lower end jobs? One piece of the puzzle can be found in the growth in casual work. "Casual" means you have a job but no job security - working without a contract or with one that lasts a very short time (whereas people with permanent jobs expect ongoing employment, barring unforeseen circumstances like layoffs).

The likelihood of being in casual employment has increased more in BC, compared to the rest of Canada - despite the buoyant economic conditions in the province. In other words, even though a strong economy is growing the pool of available jobs, the quality of those jobs is deteriorating.

Casual (or temporary) employment often gets mixed up in the debate about "flexibility." For some workers, such as professional consultants, the greater flexibility afforded by temporary work can be both desirable and well-paid. But for most people, the flexibility that comes with temporary work is good for the employer and costly for the employee - costly in terms of personal and family stress, and financial hardship.

Casual workers typically have lower quality jobs and fewer benefits such as holiday pay, extended health coverage or pensions. They usually also have lower pay. Casual jobs are found across both the private and public sectors, particularly in teaching and child care/home support occupations, as well as sales and services, construction trades, and occupations in primary industry....


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Old Growth Creates New Growth in Alliances  

Carole Pearson

cartoonWhen it comes to old growth forests and clear-cut logging, woodworkers and environmentalists have stood on opposite sides of the road for more than 20 years. Loggers saw environmentalists as “tree-huggers” who wanted to save every tree and kill forest industry jobs in the process. Environmentalists saw loggers as minions of the forest companies, people who would gleefully clear cut ancient forests, nature’s beauty and environmental consequences be damned.

One well-publicized example happened in1993, when protestors set up blockades were to prevent MacMillan Bloedel and Interfor workers from logging the 265,000 hectares of forest around Clayoquot Sound, near Tofino. Nearly 900 people were arrested by the RCMP for blockading a logging road,  the largest civil disobedience action in Canadian history.

Paul Cienfuegos, a former labour liaison with Friends of Clayoquot Sound, wrote in 1997, “We simply could not fathom that loggers might also have a strong desire to protect the forests – so as to ensure themselves and their children a secure forest job base well into the future. In addition, we could not distinguish between the corporation and the workforce. We perceived them as having the same values: cutting the forest down in order to get rich.”

Fast forward to today and you’ll find both sides have found a lot of common ground – and its not just the one covered in sphagnum moss. The forest workers’ campaign to ban raw log exports and the environmentalists’ campaign to stop old-growth logging both found a home under the shared banner of  forest sustainability....

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