Protecting the Rights of Migrant Farmworkers in Quebec: To what Extent can Unionization Overcome the Effects of Precarious Immigration Status?

Jill Hanley, Leah Paul, Jishian Ravinthiran, Loïc Malhaire, Nathaniel Mosseau

Abstract


Very little literature in Canada offers in-depth examination of efforts to unionize migrant farmworkers. Drawing on an empirical case study of farmworker unionization efforts in Quebec, this article makes the argument that, if the monumental efforts of the UFCW are unable to overcome the entrenched anti-union positions of consulates and employers, it is principally due to farmworkers’ precarious immigration status. We argue that both the willingness of the Quebec state to create policy excluding farmworkers from collective bargaining rights and farmworkers’ own doubtful evaluation of the relative costs and benefits of attempting to unionize are innately tied to an immigration system that places migrant farmworkers in a situation of “conditionality of presence and access” (Goldring & Landolt, 2013, p.3). We begin this article with an overview of the precarious and dangerous work conditions that would lead advocates to favour unionization, before turning to a literature review on the perspectives of different actors on farmworker unionization across Canada. Within Quebec (and in other provinces), the UFCW made exceptional efforts to organize this workforce, and here we present their struggle to achieve the right to unionize within the province. Ultimately, these unionization efforts failed, but what are their future prospects in Quebec? How do different Quebec actors—employers, consulates, advocates, and workers themselves—view unionization? We present original data from interviews before turning to a final discussion about the relative contributions and shortcomings of the potential unionization of migrant workers. While unionization can offer significant protections, we must also anticipate and address its shortcomings given the precarious immigration status of so many agricultural workers and invest in alternative forms of collective action.

Keywords: migrant workers, farmworkers, unionization, Quebec, immigration policy

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The Journal of Rural and Community Development is supported by SSHRC.

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