Dan Urban has been farming just west of Innisfail for years without a serious injury of any kind. Still, he knows he can't let his guard down for a second.
"The equipment is getting bigger and it's getting faster," said Urban. "It doesn't take a whole lot of horsepower to kill ya."
As the grain farmer toils away bringing in this year's harvest the provincial government is looking at ways to make agriculture work in Alberta safer.
Urban says while many farm employees have grown up around dangerous machinery, he thinks it might be time for the industry to consider programs similar to oil and gas sector certification programs.
"Maybe farming is going to have to go that way too," he says. "Maybe there has to be an organization out there to certify inexperienced help."
Agriculture is one of the most dangerous sectors Canadians can work in, said Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
"It's simply not enough to encourage agricultural employers and workers to pay more attention to safety," said McGowan. "The reality is that no amount of education and promotion is going to improve the safety situation in the agricultural sector."
Alberta farm workers are completely exempt from the Labour Relations Code, mandatory Workers Compensation Board coverage, most provisions in the Employment Standards Code, and are only covered by the Occupational Health and Safety Act in mushroom factories, greenhouses, nurseries and sod farms, he said.
"We're the only province in the entire country that has this exemption," he said. "As long as these exemptions persist there's no way that agricultural employers can be held accountable or prosecuted when they put their employees at risk."
The government says it is committed to looking at legislative options for commercial agricultural operations and meeting with the ministers of Human Services and Agriculture and Rural Development this month to discuss workplace standards and health and safety issues in the agriculture industry.
"We want to make sure Albertans are able to work in a safe and fair environment, and come home to their families at the end of every day – regardless of what they do for a living," said Brookes Merritt, a spokesperson for the Human Services ministry. "We know education and awareness are effective ways of preventing workplace incidents, but we also know there's room for improvement when it comes to the culture of workplace health and safety on farms."
The government recognizes it needs to make a distinction between small family-run farms and multi-billion-dollar commercial-scale agricultural operations, she said.
Mountain View Gazette, Tuesday, Oct 02, 2012
Byline: Drew A. Penner
Re: "Voluntary safety rules for farms ineffective, experts say," Sept. 18.
It is hard to describe how disheartening, how damaging, how dreadful it must be for farm workers and their families to read the harsh words spoken recently by Wildrose MLA Jeff Wilson.
Imagine you are a child who has lost a parent in a farm accident, or a parent who has lost a child. Then imagine being told that applying the same health and safety laws to farm work sites that apply to all other work sites in the province is a "burden" or too "complicated" for farm operations.
From the biggest cities to the smallest hamlets, Albertans know that we must do all we can to make our workplaces safe. It is especially important on farms, where heavy industrial equipment mixes with vulnerable workers, often migrants and sometimes children.
Simple attempts to save lives cannot be callously dismissed as complicated or brushed off as burden-some.
The evidence from experts is perfectly clear.
Education alone will not save lives on our farms.
Occupational health and safety regulations must be applied.
These regulations aren't too complicated or too much of a burden for any other employers.
Are those who refuse to implement these rules really saying that Alberta farm operations are so backward that they can't do what other employers do, or what farms in other provinces do?
Alberta can and must do better. It's time to move past this dangerous 19th-century approach to farming.
Gil McGowan is president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
The Calgary Herald, Thursday Sept 20 2012
The only sector where you can't have a union is the only one with no health and safety rules? Explain, please…
Literally everybody – and that includes Alberta Premier Alison Redford – knows that permitting an industry to "voluntarily" self-regulate the health and safety of its own workers amounts to a load of a very common agricultural product frequently spread on the ground as fertilizer.
This includes, by the way, every one of those well-greased lobbyists and earnest spokespeople for Alberta's agricultural industry who presumably subjected Ms. Redford to the full court press to forget about her impetuous promise to cover farm workers under Alberta's health and safety legislation during last fall's Conservative leadership campaign.
As was no doubt quickly brought to Ms. Redford's attention upon taking the oath of office, Conservative premiers just don't do that sort of thing in Alberta – even when the countryside is seriously contemplating voting for the loony-right Wildrose Party. Maybe especially when the countryside is seriously contemplating voting for the loony-right Wildrose Party!
So, am I calling these people liars? You bet I am!
They know as you know and I know and Ms. Redford knows that not including agricultural workers under the province's health and safety laws costs lives now and will cost more lives in the future. They also know the principal reason they don't want to have to comply with this reasonable kind of regulation is because now and then it might shave a few dollars off their bottom line.
Don't ever let someone talk snottily about how life's cheap in some other part of the world. It can be pretty cheap in Alberta too. (And it's cheaper, take note, here than in any other part of Canada, because everywhere else in Canada, farm workers do come under health and safety legislation.)
Notwithstanding her broken promise, by the way, I'm not accusing Ms. Redford of lying. She's merely scrambling to avoid having to lie about the topic. Earlier this week, according to the Calgary Herald, the premier's media spokesthingies were referring reporters' questions to members of her cabinet. Her agriculture minister and her minister responsible for health and safety law, meanwhile, refused to be interviewed about it.
This topic is in the news because a report of something called the Farm Safety Advisory Council, which was set up by Ms. Redford's predecessor, Farmer Ed Stelmach, recommends that unlike every other civilized jurisdiction, Alberta farm workers continue to be excluded from the protection of health and safety law.
This being Alberta, they're also excluded from laws governing hours of work, overtime pay, statutory holidays, vacation pay, the right to refuse unsafe work, compensation if they're injured on the job or even the right to be told if they work they're being instructed to do is dangerous!
Ms. Redford's ministers have been studying this and studying it and studying it – presumably while they try to come up with a way to pass off what they plan to do as concern for farm worker safety. Then some anonymous and inconsiderate person leaked the scheme to the media, whereupon reporters lobbed a few questions for the premier and her ministers to evade answering.
Now, the recommendation of the Farm Safety Advisory Council comes as no surprise, as Alberta Federation of Labour President Gil McGowan pointed out in a letter to the premier, because the advisory council is packed with representatives of agricultural corporations.
The advisory council, by the way, thinks the workers should be "educated" about safety. That's a good one, considering the advantage bosses have anywhere – even if you happen to speak English and know a good lawyer or two. Temporary foreign workers, frightened, far from home and unable to speak the local lingo? Good luck to them!
One advantage of this approach from the employer's perspective, of course, is that if something does go terribly wrong, God forbid, they can blame the dead or injured worker.
It's also important to remember, while we're talking about "farm workers," that Alberta doesn't just use that term to describe the hired hand on a run-down family farm – which I'm sure is the image they'd like you to think of when you hear the expression – but also for employees of giant industrial operations run by multinational corporations, including hog farms, massive feedlots and hay processing factories that ship stuff overseas.
In other words, in many cases here in Alberta, it's a significant class of industrial workers that has been excluded from the right to a safe and healthy workplace by this lamentable situation.
Meanwhile, according to the director of the Alberta Centre for Injury Control and Research, a government funded operation at the University of Alberta, the Advisory Council had no interest in his group's advice, which was to include the farm workers under the health and safety umbrella.
"Our input was based on the science but it wasn't listened to," epidemiologist Don Voaklander, the U of A Centre's director, told the Herald. He added: "These corporate farms, large feedlots and custom haying operations are no different than businesses that are drilling for oil or fixing your car. The agrarian myth of the rugged family farm just doesn't apply."
Think about this sort of thing when you hear those kindly souls from the anti-union Merit Contractors, the extreme-right Tax Exempt Fraser Institute for Market Fundamentalist Propaganda (TEFIMFP) and the further reaches of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's backbenches explaining that we don't need unions any more because we have all this great health and safety legislation, labour laws and the like.
Well, you may wonder, why don't Alberta's farm workers just join a union and start the long march to better labour conditions?
That would be the ticket, eh? Just one thing about that plan, though: it's also illegal in Alberta for "farm workers" to be represented by a union!
Sure, the law's unconstitutional, but someone who had suffered because of it would have to take it all the way to the Supreme Court.
So think about this the next time you're serenaded about the need for "worker choice" and the "right to work" – meaning laws to make unions ineffective or outright illegal – by one of these "friends of the working person."
If not having unions is so great because we already have such wonderful safety laws, labor laws and rules against children working in industrial plants, how come the only sector without this protection just happens to be the only sector where you're not allowed to join a union? Just wondering.
In the meantime, let's call a spade an agricultural implement. The fact Alberta farm workers are still not covered by basic health and safety law, and the fact Premier Redford has broken her promise to make sure they are protected, is a disgrace.
Rabble.ca Wednesday Sept 19 2012
Byline: David Climenhaga
AFL urges Premier to remain steadfast on commitment to protect farm workers
Status quo with respect to farm safety is simply not good enough, writes McGowan
EDMONTON – Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, today urged Premier Redford to remain steadfast in her commitment to protect farm workers under provincial health and safety legislation.
"I commend you for declaring your intention during your campaign for leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party that, as Premier, you would protect farm workers by including them in our province's health and safety legislation," writes McGowan. "I hope, as I know the families of farm workers killed on the job hope, that you remain dedicated to this objective."
McGowan's letter (view here) was prompted by a leaked draft report from the Farm Safety Advisory Council which recommended that farm workers remain excluded from the provinces health and safety legislation.
McGowan points out that unlike other Alberta workers, farm workers are completely exempt from the Labour Relations Code, mandatory Workers Compensation Board coverage, most provisions in the Employment Standards Code, and are only covered by Occupational Health and Safety Act in mushroom factories, greenhouses, nurseries and sod farms - all other farm workers are excluded, including those working in hog barns, feed lots, and other large operations.
"Maintaining the status quo with respect to farm safety is simply not good enough," writes McGowan. "As the number of farms in Alberta declines – both family farms and corporate farms – farm fatalities remain stubbornly high, meaning farming is more dangerous now than it has been in recent memory. I fear that the continued exclusion of farm workers from Alberta's health and safety laws will allow this woeful and tragic trend to continue."
MEDIA CONTACT: Gil McGowan, AFL President, 780-218-9888
New farm safety rules 'useless'
Experts hit out at voluntary certifications
A provincially funded research body says a leaked proposal for voluntary safety certification of Alberta's agriculture industry won't curb the rising rate of farm deaths and injuries.
The director of the Alberta Centre for Injury Control and Research said Monday that his group's advice to a government-appointed committee - that the province impose health and safety regulations on farms like every other jurisdiction in the country - was ignored.
"Our input was based on the science but it wasn't listened to," U of A epidemiologist Don Voaklander said.
"These corporate farms, large feedlots and custom haying operations are no different than businesses that are drilling for oil or fixing your car. The agrarian myth of the rugged family farm just doesn't apply."
Recent statistics show 355 Albertans have died and 678 were seriously-injured in the past three decades. About nine per cent of the fatalities involved hired workers.
In a report obtained by The Herald and submitted to the province last February, the Farm Safety Advisory council recommended increased education and voluntary certification of farms to improve the industry's worsening safety record.
But Voaklander, whose centre depends on $1.5 million a year from Alberta Health, said a 2008 study of a similar program in neighbouring Saskatchewan found no significant difference in injury rates among participating farms.
"We're directed to be at arm's length from the government," he said.
"I mean I'm not going to go out and (criticize a minister or the government) ... but there's very little evidence that education of farmers actually works."
Premier Alison Redford promised during her Tory leadership campaign last fall that she would extend health and safety law protection to farm workers if elected, but on Monday her staff referred questions on the issue to cabinet.
With Agriculture Minister Vern Olson and Human Ser-vices Minister Dave Hancock both declining to be inter-viewed about a report they've been studying for nearly seven months, opposition critics hammered the Tory government for delaying while farm workers continued to be killed and injured on the job.
"It's immoral," Calgary Liberal MLA Dr. David Swann said.
"This government, whose voter base has been traditionally rural, is hard-pressed to put in place what they would call onerous rules but which are absolutely the norm in Western civilization."
New Democrat MLA Rachel Notley said it would be delusional for the government to accept the advisory council's philosophy that farm workers, particularly a fastincreasing number of vulnerable temporary migrants, can be educated to assert their right to refuse dangerous work.
"Premier Redford has capitulated to a strong conservative lobby within her caucus and without," Notley said.
Calgary Wildrose MLA Jeff Wilson said his party supports the council's call for farm safety education programs to curb the rising fatality and injury rate.
"We do believe the safety of those working on farms should be worldclass," said Wilson, "but we also don't want to add more burdens or complicated regulations to the farming community."
Calgary Herald, Sunday Sept 16 2012
Byline: Matt McClure
August 2012: Two-tier minimum wage; AFL 100 years Labour Day; AB govt no longer reports farm fatalities; Harper's low-wage agenda; Bogus labour-shortage figures; Billions lost in royaliti...
Two-Tier Minimum Wage
- lberta's poorly written two-tier minimum wage system is open to abuse by employers who are taking advantage of these laws to rip off the lowest-paid workers in Alberta. West End Swiss Chalet is one example. For more information see Aug 31 AFL release and backgrounder
AFL's 100 Years
- sure to have a look at our insert in the Edmonton Journal on Friday, August 31, 2012 – a special Labour Day message from Gil McGowan and a 10 page special on the past and present struggles of workers in Alberta.
Government trying to erase agricultural workers by no longer reporting farm fatalities
- The Alberta government's decision to stop reporting farm fatalities is an attempt to move the issue to the back burner and off the public radar. Farm workers are already left unprotected under health and safety regulations. For more information see Aug 20 AFL release.
Government documents reveal source of Harper's low-wage agenda
- nternal federal government documents show the source of Harper's low-wage agenda. Last year, a select group of CEOs and other business leaders were invited by the federal Conservatives to an annual closed-doors conference where they urged the Tories to adopt measures to reduce the pay of Canadian workers, limit union power by enacting U.S.-style right-to-work legislation, and allow two-tier health care. For more information...
AFL shows government using bogus labour-shortage figures
- The government is using bizarre calculations to show a catastrophic "labour shortage" even though their own figures show a labour surplus for every year until 2021. The AFL revealed that the government's own figures show the supply of labour exceeding the demand for labour – a labour surplus – well into the future. For more information see July 25 AFL release and backgrounder
New Study shows billions in lost royalty revenue after Northern Gateway
- he Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) and Parkland Institute released a study showing Albertans will let billions slip through their fingers if the Northern Gateway Pipeline is approved and constructed. If Alberta met royalty targets in place when Lougheed was Premier, the province would have $1 trillion in the Heritage Fund by 2039. For more information... see Aug 9 AFL release and backgrounder
Statement from Gil McGowan on the proposed takeover of Nexen by the China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC)
- Does it matter who owns the oil sands? You bet it does!" explains AFL president Gil McGowan. "If foreign governments are allowed to expand in Alberta through companies like China National, they'll develop the oil sands in their own best interest, not in the best interest of Canadians." For more information...July 24 AFL release
UFCW 1118 workers on strike for fair wages and working conditions
- FCW 1118 sisters and brothers at Lilydale Foods' North Edmonton shop are on strike for wages comparable to those in other Lilydale plants. The employer refuses to pay wages on par with other Lilydale plants despite the fact that these workers work harder by handling larger and heavier poultry. The employer has cut the number of workers on the floor, meaning those left on the floor have to work harder while their wages have remained the same. Workers are also asking for a guaranteed minimum number of hours per week. There are about 200 workers on strike in shifts of about 75. Support these workers on the picket line at 127 Avenue and 76 Street in Edmonton. Pickets will be going in shifts between Monday and Friday, 6:00 AM and 6:30 PM.
September2:Calgary Pride Parade
September 3: EDLC Labour Day BBQ
September 3: Labour Day
September 5: Official Opening Historical Display, Alberta Provincial Museum
September 7: AFL Education Committee
September 8: World Literacy Day
September 10: AFL Women's Committee
September 11: AFL WOCAW Committee
October 1: AFL Pride and Solidarity Committee
October 2-3: AFL Executive Council
October 8: Thanksgiving
October 14-17: CEP National Convention
October 17: National Day for the Eradication of Poverty
October 18: Persons Day
November 23-25: Parkland Fall Conference
January 14-19, 2013: AFL Weeklong School
Lack of protection for Alberta farm workers was highlighted Aug. 20 by Alberta's New Democrats and the Alberta Federation of Labour.
The two groups used the occasion of the AFL-designated Alberta farm workers day to urge the provincial government to extend occupational health and safety laws and workers compensation benefits to farm employees.
NDP agriculture critic David Eggen said his party issues the call every year to increase standards under which farm workers can be protected.
"It's very dangerous work and farm workers are not being protected with the basic rights that other workers have here in the province of Alberta," Eggen said at a Lethbridge news conference.
"They're far behind the rest of Canadian farm workers. It shows callous disregard to an important sector of our population."
Shannon Phillips, AFL director of policy analysis, said previous Progressive Conservative governments have explained lack of farm worker protections as a way to avoid intrusion on family farm operations.
"We find that excuse to be just that," said Phillips, adding the explanation is a red herring for government failure to provide adequate worker protection.
"There is no excuse any more. And we also have a premier on the record saying that she is going to do this."
In her leadership campaign, Alberta premier Alison Redford said farm laborers should have protection.
However, no changes have been made to legislation since Redford's election earlier this year that would affect farm worker status.
Phillips said many farms are large commercial operations with workplaces like any other, so workers deserve the same protections offered in other sectors.
In a later interview, Eggen echoed those opinions.
"The large farms that have been amalgamated into companies and corporations now need to be the very first up to give full rights to their workers," he said. "In regards to smaller operations, we can have a differentiated approach, with the provincial government providing some of those premiums to the smaller operators. Large corporate farms need to pay full freight on their workers' rights and compensation immediately."
Eggen and Phillips noted recent evidence that the province no longer tracks and reports farm worker fatalities. Queries were instead directed to dated data on the Canadian Farm Injury Reporting website.
However, agriculture ministry spokesperson Stuart Elson said Aug. 23 that 2011 farm injury and fatality statistics would be posted within a few days.
"We just want to make sure we are respecting the privacy of the families, but we're actually going to be putting up some updated stats."
He said concerns were raised about the level of detail in Alberta farm fatality reporting, so the process was reviewed.
"We will be posting it pretty quickly.
At the news conference earlier in the week, Eggen expressed concern about lack of available 2011 data.
"I think the statistics have been embarrassing, quite frankly. We have seen historically 160 deaths here in the province of Alberta around farm workers since Alberta started to keep the statistics."
Alberta is the only province that excludes farm workers from occupational health and safety laws and from regulations governing hours of work, overtime and vacation pay.
Phillips said the matter has been studied for years by successive PC governments but with no action taken.
"This thing has been studied and studied and studied to death. Over the nine years that the provincial government said they were consulting on this topic, 160 people died."
The Western Producer, Friday August 31 2012
The Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) says the government's decision to withhold information on farm fatalities is an attempt to move the issue to the back burner and off the public radar. The AFL represents over 150,000 Alberta workers.
"Farm workers are already left unprotected under health and safety regulations," says AFL Secretary Treasurer Nancy Furlong. "The decision to cease reporting fatalities is a painful example of how agricultural workers are being erased in Alberta."
The news that the province would stop reporting information on farm worker deaths and injuries was delivered through a government website; the province offered no meaningful explanation for the change.
Alberta remains the only province where farm workers are excluded from occupational health and safety laws, as well as legislation governing hours of work and overtime, statutory holidays, vacation pay, the right to refuse unsafe work, being informed of work-related dangers and compensation if they are injured on the job.
"It is the government's duty to protect workers, but also to report their deaths and injuries. Death and injury prevention requires knowledge of the frequency and nature of the incidents," says Furlong, noting that the latest data available on the agency now reporting these statistics, the Canadian Agriculture Injury Reporting, is from 2005.
"The Alberta Federation of Labour declared August 20 as Farm Workers Day at our 2005 Convention, and has been calling on the government to allow farm workers the same protections as most Alberta workers enjoy," says Furlong. "It's particularly insulting to the families of those killed on the job to have to call on the government to continue to simply report these incidents.
"This decision to stop reporting the number and nature of farm deaths helps to hide the real problem—Alberta's deplorable lack of workplace protection for farms workers in the province," concludes Furlong.
Workers' Compensation Institute, Tuesday August 28 2012
Liberal MLA David Swann has called on one snack food company to stop using Alberta-produced potatoes, as child labour in the province's industry remains unregulated.
In Alberta, one member of the legislative assembly is calling for a boycott of potato farms in the Canadian province, stating that child labour continues to be employed on the farms. The company he targeted in particular was snack foods manufacturer and potato-chip giant, Frito Lay.
Human Services Minister Dave Hancock defended the family farm in the Edmonton Journal. "I think it's unfair to Alberta producers, and Albertans, to write a letter to one of the chief buyers saying, 'Don't buy anything from Alberta in this area because someone might be using child labour,'" he said.
Some companies attempt to refrain from using child or forced labour as part of their ethical sourcing requirements or corporate social responsibility endeavours. David Swann would like to see the company refrain from buying Alberta potatoes under similar provisions.
On the other hand, Rob Van Roessel of the Potato Growers of Alberta is proud of the safety protocols it has pioneered in the industry. Work for children is safe so long as supervision and training is adequate he is reported saying in the Edmonton Journal.
Citing the Alberta Federation of Labour, the Edmonton Journal reports that agriculture-related fatalities are no longer government-reported. Mr. Swann, however, estimated the number to be 30 over the span of two decades. Eric Muse amp, president of the Farm Workers Union of Alberta, says that a third of agriculture fatalities are among children.
In 2008 alone, reports the Calgary Herald, six of the 23 agriculture-related deaths were among children. Many of the fatalities among children in recent years involved machinery and infrastructure—a 12-year-old pinned under a shop door; a five-year old falling off a wagon in tow of a tractor; a seven-year-old crushed at an industrial feedlot; two young children buried in grain off-loaded by a truck; a four-year-old run over; a nine-year old killed by a rolling tractor while another was asphyxiated after falling into a grain hopper; and two other youth under twelve were thrown from a truck to their deaths.
Divisions between child labour a child work can be a contentious issue. Countries around the world have different minimum ages of employment. Different rules may apply to children working on farms as compared to other industries.
According to the Canadian Labour Congress, "Alberta Employment Standards Code permits the employment of 12 to 14 year olds with the written consent of one parent or guardian. The employment of children under 12 is prohibited."
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Canada is a state party, aims to protect children from child labour. The International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention 182 on the worst forms of child labour also outlaws hazardous work for children. Hazardous work is labour dangerous to the health, safety and morals of a child.
SOSChilldren's Villages, Tuesday August 28 2012