Farm workers deserve protection

Province should give farm workers occupational safeguards

The province was called upon again this week to give Alberta farm workers the same protections as those in other occupations, and in other provinces.

The Alberta Federation Labour was among the voices which used the occasion of National Farmworkers' Day, on Monday, to push the province to take action. AFL policy director Shannon Phillips of Lethbridge, in urging the Alberta government to include farm workers in occupational health and safety and employment standards codes, said, "We are currently the only jurisdiction that has no form of protection for farm workers."

NDP agriculture critic David Eggen slammed the province for its lack of action to protect farmers, noting farm labourers are excluded from basic employment standards such as hours of work, overtime, vacation pay or statutory holiday pay.

"Alberta is far behind the rest of Canada in regards to farm workers' safety," said Eggen.

Those calling for action argue that farm workers in Alberta deserve the same protections as workers in any other industry. The province has always countered that it doesn't want to infringe on the operation of the family farm, but protecting farm workers doesn't have to interfere with small farming operations. It's workers in the larger corporate agricultural operations who are most in need of regulations to serve their interests.

Judge Peter Barley, in his report from the fatality inquiry into the 2006 death of farm worker Kevan Chandler, recommended that the province amend the safety act to include paid farm workers. But he indicated that family members and other unpaid workers could still be exempted, so the province's long-held argument against making changes doesn't stand up.

Barley, in his report, noted, "No logical explanation was given as to why paid employees on a farm are not covered by the same workplace legislation as non-farm employees."

Eric Musekamp, president of the Farmworkers Union of Alberta, has been calling for better protection for farm workers in the province. He noted in a letter to The Herald earlier this summer that Alberta fatality numbers would climb by 19 per cent if agriculture work-related deaths were included. He said that number doesn't include farmworkers who die of workplace diseases or illness, nor does it include motor vehicle crashes which make up a large proportion of workplace deaths in other industries.

Phillips said the province has spent years studying the issue and in the meantime, farm workers continue to die.

There seems to be no good reason why farm workers in Alberta don't have the same occupational protection as those in other industries. It's time for the provincial government to do what it should have already done - put those workers on a level playing field with other workers, and with their counterparts in other provinces.

Lethbridge Herald, Wedn Aug 23 2012

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