Accueil » 54-2 ( 1999) » Exclusions légales et sociales des travailleurs agricoles saisonniers véhiculés quotidiennement au Québec

Exclusions légales et sociales des travailleurs agricoles saisonniers véhiculés quotidiennement au Québec

Isabelle Mimeault et Myriam Simard

Résumé

Cet article traite des exclusions légales et sociales qui affectent la main-d’œuvre agricole saisonnière véhiculée quotidiennement au Québec, dont la grande majorité sont des immigrants résidant à Montréal. Une recherche sociale sur le terrain a révélé, sur certaines fermes, un haut roulement de main-d’œuvre et des conditions de travail en deçà du seuil légalement et humainement admissible : non-respect des personnes, du temps de travail, des normes de santé et sécurité, discrimination. À partir des résultats de cette étude, de recherches sur les modifications de l'agriculture québécoise au XXe siècle ainsi que de l'analyse de contenu de mémoires de l'Union des producteurs agricoles (UPA), les auteures mettent en lumière le rôle de l'UPA dans les exclusions légales successives des salariés agricoles et remettent en question son discours sur la pénurie de main-d’œuvre, contredite par la recherche.

Abstract

This article examines the situation of seasonal farm workers in Quebec, the majority of whom are immigrants living in Montreal. These workers are employed on a casual and on-call basis and are transported to their work on a dally basis. Drawing on the results of a recent fieldwork study, on historical studies of the changes in Quebec agriculture in the 20th century and on a content analysis of several briefs by the Union des producteurs agricoles (UPA - the Quebec Farmers' Union), the authors attempt to determine the legal and social exclusions affecting this particular labour force.

The paper first describes how, during the last twenty years, the expansion of the agricultural sector in the context of a decrease in the number of family workers and increase in hired farm help, has affected the profile of agricultural manpower in Quebec. In certain sectors requiring training (e.g., dairy, pork), hired labour has remained infrequent, whereas in the horticultural sector, which hires unskilled workers for harvesting, there has been a large increase in the number of hired workers. These changes explain why agricultural producers in the horticultural sector now hire immigrant farm workers who are residents of Montreal. The study indicates that seasonal agricultural workers transported on a dally basis make up a significant part of the hired farm labour force in Quebec and that these workers are employed on farms that employ tens, and even hundreds of workers during harvest time.

The results of the fieldwork study are then presented, with a focus on the contrast between the principal labour standards and occupational health and safety legislation that applies to farm workers, and the actual working conditions revealed in the study. The research revealed high labour turnover and particularly difficult working conditions, although these vary greatly between farms. These include low wages, fallure to observe regulations concerning working time, unhealthy conditions, little concern for worker safety, humiliating attitudes and language, and discrimination. The study thus reveals that labour shortage problems, which have been decried by the UPA, in fact conceal poor working conditions.

Finally, the authors challenge the UPA's backward-looking discourse, which has not changed despite the socio-economic transformations discussed in the article. The UPA bases its arguments on two interrelated postulates: (1) that agriculture is a specialsector due to its distinctive nature as compared with other economic sectors; and (2) that the model of relations is familial,since it is based on the producer's family. The organization has relied on these arguments to demand, and in large part to obtain, the exclusion of agricultural workers from the scope of the Act respecting Labour Standards,claiming that farmers already respect the Act's provisions. The Commission des droits de la personne(Quebec Human Rights Commission), which opposed the exclusion during consultations on the draft legislation (in 1979, and again in 1990 when the law was amended), has maintained that such an exclusion results in adverse-effect discrimination based on social condition and ethnie origin. However, the legislative provision excluding agricultural workers has not yet given rise to a legal challenge based on the Quebec Charter of Rights and Human Freedoms.

In the authors' view, the legal route holds out little promise for improving the employaient situation of these workers, given the precarious nature of this poor and vulnerable labour force, which is generally made up of recent immigrants. However, the authors propose some other possible solutions: first of all, amendments to both federal and Quebec labour law, which traditionally exclude agricultural workers; and secondly, changes of a political nature that would allow these workers to join together and to create an independent monitoring organization. These steps are a necessary precondition to achieving the more profound change that is needed at the humanitarian level to put a stop to the attacks on the human dignity of these seasonal agricultural workers who are transported to their work on a dally basis.

Resumen

Este articulo trata de las exclusiones légales y sociales que afectan a la mano de obra de temporada vehiculada diariamente en Québec, de los que la gran mayoria son inmigrantes résidentes de Montréal. Un estudio social en el terreno revelo, en ciertos campos, un alto nivel de circulaciòn de la mano de obra y de las condiciones de trabajo que se encuentran por debajo de los nivelés legalmente y humanitariamente admisibles : falta de respeto por las personas, por el tiempo de trabajo asignado, por las normas de la salud y la seguridad en el trabajo y por la discriminaciòn. A partir de los resultados de este estudio, un anàlisis sobre las modificaciones de la agricultura en Québec en el siglo 20 y sobre el contenido de los anàlisis realizados por la Union de Productores Agricolas (UPA), demuestra el papel de la UPA en las exclusiones légales sucesivas de los salarios agricolas y pone en duda el discurso de la UPA sobre la falta de mano de obra en la industria, claramente contradicho por el estudio realizado.