OTTAWA, ONTARIO--(Marketwired - Sept. 18, 2014) - More than 100 migrant agriculture workers will now receive the EI Parental Benefits they were wrongfully denied by an Employment Insurance tribunal, in the wake of a successful legal battle supported by UFCW Canada, the Agriculture Workers Alliance, and argued by Niagara North Community Legal Assistance and the Income Security Advocacy Centre (ISAC).

"That migrant workers see this benefit as important to them is proved by the number of times every year we get calls from their homelands to find out the latest. Now we can tell them of victory," says Jennifer Pothier, Executive Director of Niagara North Community Legal Assistance in St. Catharines, Ont.

On Tuesday, the workers were informed the denial of their applications for Parental Benefits had now been reversed after a review of the cases by the EI Commission. The review followed an order by the Federal Court of Appeal in 2013 requiring the Social Security Tribunal to re-hear the cases.

"Justice has finally prevailed for some of the most vulnerable workers in Canada," says Paul Meinema, the National President of UFCW Canada (United Food and Commercial Workers union). For more than two decades, UFCW Canada has led a campaign for the rights of migrant agriculture workers in Canada, and in association with the Agriculture Workers Alliance (AWA), operates ten worker support centres across the country.

"The original decision to unilaterally deny their applications was arbitrary and unjust as the federal court pointed out. We are grateful that this latest decision rights that wrong," says Meinema."But we are also dismayed that since this case began, the Harper government stepped in to permanently deny other seasonal workers access to parental benefits, yet seasonal workers are still obliged to pay millions in EI premiums every year."

Despite paying into the EI system since 1966, migrant workers normally do not qualify for regular unemployment benefits. However they could access "special EI benefits" (including maternal, parental and compassionate benefits) - that was until 2012, when the Harper government clawed away even this limited right. The 102 migrant workers impacted by this week's successful decision had filed their applications prior to the claw back.

"We welcome the EI Commission's decision to pay the workers what they are owed," says Jackie Esmonde of the Income Security Advocacy Centre. "At the same time, we call on the federal government to reverse their decision to take away future migrant workers' rights to parental benefits. Like any other worker in Canada, these workers should have the right to benefits in the event of unemployment. Access should be expanded, not denied."

"Migrant agriculture workers make a huge and positive contribution to our communities," adds UFCW Canada leader Meinema. "Migrant workers are parents too. The victory for the workers in this case is rightful and deserved. But shamefully the same door has been slammed shut for thousands of other seasonal workers. The Harper government calls it regulation. The reality is, it is blatant discrimination and we will continue to fight it."

Contact Information:

Agriculture Workers Alliance
Stan Raper
National Co-ordinator
(416) 523-0937

Niagara North Community Legal Assistance
Jennifer Pothier
Executive Director
(905) 682-6635

Income Security Advocacy Centre (ISAC)
Jackie Esmonde
(416) 597-5820 x5153