Alberta government urged to act now to prevent farm-worker tragedy

Premier must fulfill her pledge to protect workers and close legal loopholes, says AFL

A transportation tragedy on the scale that killed 11 farm workers in Ontario last week is looming in Alberta unless the government acts now to prevent it, says the province's largest labour group.

"The lax laws governing how farm workers can be taken to and from worksites is a recipe for disaster," says Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL), which represents 145,000 workers.

In Alberta, an exemption to the Alberta Traffic Safety Act/Rules of the Road Regulation allows farm workers to ride in the back up pickup trucks and larger trucks. "The government says it's wrong for all other Albertans to travel in this unsafe way, but says it's OK for farm workers. Why? Are their lives worth any less?"

Alberta also allows farm workers to travel in 15-passenger vans, dubbed "death traps on wheels" by some U.S. safety experts. These vans have been banned in Nova Scotia, banned by the U.S. government for transportation of children and banned by some school boards in Canada, while some Alberta school boards will no longer insure them.

"These vehicles aren't good enough for our children and they aren't good enough for our workers. It's time to take them off the road," says McGowan.

The AFL today calls on the Alberta government to:

  • End the exemption for riding in the back of trucks;
  • Ban the use of 15-passenger vans;
  • Outlaw vans that have been modified below acceptable safety standards; and
  • Give paid farm workers the same rights as all other Albertans, by including them under Employment Standards and Occupational Health and Safety rules.

"The exemptions from road rules is just another example of our government hanging on to outdated, dangerous attitudes that date back to the 19th century. Alberta's farms are industrial worksites like any you'll find in urban areas, involving the use of heavy machinery and heavy loads," says McGowan.

"During her campaign to become premier, Alison Redford promised tougher rules to protect farm workers, but, so far, it's a case of Promise Made, Promise Broken. Farm workers have the right to the same protections as all other Albertans. We expect the premier, as a human-rights lawyer, to recognize this and fulfill her pledge now."

This call for action coincides with a national day of action tomorrow (Friday) demanding justice for migrant farm workers, including those who died in Ontario.

See below photographs of a 15-passenger van being used to transport Alberta farm workers


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