Alta. Liberals press for farm labour standards

Alberta's provincial opposition is calling for the province's labour standards code and job safety legislation to include farm workers.

Liberal Leader Kevin Taft on Monday called for the Stelmach government to expand the Employment Standards Code and the Occupational Health and Safety Act to include protections for farm workers and adopt a farm safety program to promote safety in the farming community.

"Alberta's farm workers have no protection regarding hours of work and overtime, no statutory holidays or vacation pay, no right to refuse unsafe work, and no compensation if they are injured on the job," Taft said, accusing the Tories of dodging the issue of farm safety.

"Injuries and deaths on Alberta farms continue to be a burden on farm families. In some of these cases, farm worker safety standards could have prevented incidents from happening, and provide the needed support when incidents do occur."

Edmonton MLA Hugh MacDonald, the Liberals' employment critic, said in a release Monday that safety standards for all workers must be improved and properly enforced.

The Liberals made their statements as part of the International Day of Mourning for Workers Killed or Injured on the Job. According to the Alberta Federation of Labour, 166 Albertans, including 154 of what it called "officially 'recognized'" workers and 12 farm workers, lost their lives for work-related reasons in 2007.

AFL president Gil McGowan said in a separate release that 2007 saw the most work-related fatalities in the province since 1982 and the sixth-highest total in provincial history, with 28 work-related deaths so far in 2008 -- a tally McGowan blamed on the province's current boom.

"Employers are cutting corners on training and safety procedures to meet the huge demand," he said. "The result is more accidents. Many workers choose to walk away from unsafe jobs rather than pressure for more safety, meaning bad employers don't improve. And the government is not doing enough inspections and enforcement."

While it's still early in 2008, he said, "if we continue to lose workers at this rate, we will kill 170 workers in 2008, which will be the highest number since the Hillcrest Mine disaster in 1914."

Lorna Chandler, whose husband died in June 2006 in an accident on a farm near High River, said in the Liberals' release that "farm workers deserve the same on the job protection as everyone else."

Farm Business Communications, Mon Apr 28 2008


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