The BC Agriculture Council applied to strip migrant farm workers of the labour rights enjoyed by Canadian workers while Steve Thomson, British Columbia's new agriculture and lands minister, was its executive director. In a submission made to the Labour Relations Board on September 29, 2008, the council and the Western Agriculture Labour Initiative, said the province's Labour Relations Code can't constitutionally apply to foreign nationals working in British Columbia under the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program - preventing them from unionizing.
The reason: under that federal government program, Canada has negotiated employments terms and conditions for those workers with their home countries. And those federally-negotiated terms and conditions take precedence over any provincial law.
Last month, through his communications staff, Minister Thomson declined to say whether he he personally thinks the code shouldn't apply to migrant farmer workers because the case was still being heard by the board. When he was still with the council, though, the future minister told The Vancouver Sun's Brian Morton its submission wouldn't lower employment conditions for those workers.
"In our view, issues need to be addressed through country-to-country agreements, agreements based on proper working conditions, wage rates, housing standards and inspections," he said. "There's a question as to whether this program fits under the labour program and whether foreign nationals can or cannot be unionized."
But, in a decision handed down late Monday, board vice-chair Ken Saunders disagreed with the council's constitutional arguments.