The United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW), a union that represents food industry workers in Canada and the U.S., filed a complaint to the B.C. Labour Relations Board against the Mexican government and a Mission, B.C.-based farm, for allegedly blocking the return of a seasonal Mexican worker to Canada for his involvement in a union. The UFCW claims it has a Mexican government report blacklisting Victor Robles Velez, who had worked the last four years at Sidhu & Sons Nursery Ltd., for his union involvement. “The Mexican consulate has gone to the farms and injected themselves in the democratic process by telling workers and threatening workers that if they unionize or vote for a union they’ll be sent back to Mexico immediately,” says Wayne Hanley, the UFCW president. The hearing for the complaint, filed last month, is expected to take place in the next couple of weeks.
The Mexican consulate in Vancouver and the owners of the farm categorically deny the charges. “Absolutely not, there is no blacklist,” says a consulate spokesperson, adding the consulate has “absolute respect for the workers’ right to join the unions.”
The B.C. complaint is the latest in a series of controversies relating to the rights of migrant agricultural workers in Canada. Last month, the Supreme Court of Canada upheld a controversial ban on collective bargaining rights for migrant agricultural workers in Ontario, a decision critics say benefits employers and leaves foreign workers vulnerable. Andy Neufeld, a communications director with the UFCW, says that, if proven, the B.C. complaints have national, even international, consequences. “We’re talking about a government’s interference with their citizens’ rights,” says Neufeld, adding, “It would be surprising if somehow we were special out here in B.C. and this was an isolated incident.”