Prairie labour groups defend Wheat Board as Parliament votes;Western Agriculture Ministers acting against the interests of rural communities, says AFL
EDMONTON –The leading labour groups from the Prairie provinces today united in calling on the Harper government to abandon its illegal and undemocratic plan to dismantle the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB).
“Bill C-18, which will be voted on in the House of Commons today, is not about market freedom, despite what the Harper government claims. It is an early Christmas gift to the Conservatives’ corporate friends – at the expense of Canadian communities, families and working people,” says Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) which represents 145,000 workers.
The AFL, the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour and the Manitoba Federation of Labour today issued a joint statement condemning the plan to dismantle the wheat board.
“The plan is illegal, because the government has refused to hold a vote among farmers on the issue. It is undemocratic, because it ignores the wheat board’s own vote, in which a majority voted to keep the board,” says McGowan.
“It is extremely disappointing to see the Agriculture Ministers from Alberta, Saskatchewan and B.C. today backing this deeply flawed plan. They are acting against the interests of the fragile rural communities they claim to represent,” he says.
The joint statement from the labour federations says: “For more than 75 years, the CWB has worked successfully to help farmers negotiate on an equal footing with the buyers of their products, mainly large multi-national or U.S. corporations. It has also helped small Prairie farmers compete with larger corporate farming operations.”
It adds: “Clearly, the CWB is working for the majority of farmers. The Tory government has not put forward a business case for its decision and it will cost hundreds of millions of dollars to wrap up CWB operations. Prairie farmers and rural communities will lose out. Only large corporations and foreign corporate buyers will benefit.”
Says McGowan: “The real truth is that the Harper government believes in a free market only when it’s good for large corporations. It wants to destroy the ability of farmers to freely and collectively bargain to get the best price for their goods. It’s the same ideological attack Harper has made on the rights of workers to collectively bargain to get a fair deal for their work in back-to-work legislation at Canada Post and Air Canada.”
The AFL president also issued a warning: “The Harper government won’t rest here. The dairy and poultry industries are next on the list of targets.”
MEDIA CONTACT:Gil McGowan, AFL president, 780-218-9888 (cell)
Eight months ago, three farm workers died in Alberta. Because of the Alberta government's rules on farm-related deaths, there has still been no investigation.
The Alberta Federation of Labour says that's unacceptable, and are calling for changes to safety legislation.
Currently, the Occupational Health and Safety Act has an exemption for farms. The argument has long been that farms are family businesses run out of homes, and can't be held to the same standard as other businesses.
The Federation's Nancy Furlong says that's no longer the case. The AFL says investigations could help prevent future deaths and injuries on Alberta farms. They add the change to the Act would be simple to accomplish.
So far their requests to the Alberta government have been met with silence.
iNews880, Mon Aug 22 2011
Re: "WCB to cover volunteer firefighters who get cancer on job; Bill provides same benefits as full-timers get," The Journal, May 11.
The Alberta Federation of Labour welcomes the news that Alberta will extend Workers' Compensation Board coverage to include volunteer firefighters.
These courageous people -whether professional or volunteer -put their lives on the line to protect the lives and property of Albertans. Theirs is a dangerous occupation. They deserve to be protected and are entitled to the same compensation benefits as other workers.
As Employment and Immigration Minister Thomas Lukaszuk says: "At the end of the day this is not about dollars and cents."
One wonders, then, how he can justify continuing to exclude agricultural workers from the same workplace compensation coverage. Theirs, too, is a dangerous occupation. In the nine years the Alberta government has been consulting on how to improve safety for agricultural workers, 160 people have died on farm work sites.
They do important work -putting food on the tables of Albertans. This is the only province that maintains 19th century rules, 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.
This is not about dollars and cents, it's about doing what's right -that means extending the Occupational Health and Safety Act and the Workers' Compensation Act to cover paid farm workers.
Gil McGowan, president, Alberta Federation of Labour
Edmonton Journal, Mon May 16 2011
Re: "Justice for firefighters," Editorial, May 12.
The Alberta Federation of Labour welcomes the news that Alberta will extend Workers' Compensation Board coverage to include volunteer firefighters. These courageous people -whether professional or volunteer -put their lives on the line to protect Albertans' lives and property. They deserve to be protected and are entitled to the same compensation benefits as other workers.
As Employment and Immigration Minister Thomas Lukaszuk says: "At the end of the day, this is not about dollars and cents." One wonders, then, how he can justify continuing to exclude agricultural workers from the same workplace compensation coverage. Theirs, too, is a dangerous occupation (in the nine years the Alberta government has been consulting on how to improve safety for agricultural workers, 160 people have died on farm work sites.) They do important work -putting food on the tables of Albertans. This is the only province that maintains 19th-century rules 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, and being informed of work-related dangers and compensation if they are injured on the job.
This is about doing what's right. That means extending the Occupational Health and Safety Act and the Workers' Compensation Act to cover paid farm workers.
Gil McGowan, Edmonton Gil McGowan is president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
Calgary Herald, Mon May 16 2011
Employment Minister Thomas Lukaszuk writes to refute the Journal editorial "Confront lax law on farm safety," Opinion, March 16.
The minister cites the huge fines imposed for safety violations and he disputes the stats used by The Journal.
Unfortunately, he fails to mention the Alberta government does not know the number of deaths and injuries occurring in the agriculture industries because Alberta does not keep track. Only 55 per cent of hospitals have proper reporting systems for farm casualties.
He also did not mention that his ministry does not investigate farm accidents and therefore does not impose fines or penalties, and so his point that Alberta has higher fines is meaningless.
There is currently a request on the minister's desk from the official Opposition, the Alberta NDP, the Alberta Federation of Labour, the Alberta Centre for Injury Control and Research, the United Food and Commercial Workers Canada and the Farmworkers Union of Alberta to investigate all agricultural workplace fatalities, serious injuries or injuries to a child.
We await his reply. Eric Musekamp, president, Farmworkers Union of Alberta, Bow Island
Edmonton Journal, Wed Mar 30 2011
The Wheat Province has had eight straight years of decreases in its time-loss injury rate -a 37-per-cent drop in its injury rate since it instituted a WorkSafe Saskatchewan injury-prevention partnership between its Workers Compensation Board and Ministry of Labour Relations.
Saskatchewan prosecutes companies that don't maintain a safe environment for employees. It prosecuted nearly six times as many cases as Alberta in 2010 despite having a workforce a quarter the size.
But where Saskatchewan and most other provinces in Canada really show up Alberta is on farms. Farm workers in at least eight provinces are covered by occupational health and safety legislation. Alberta farmers are not. Farms have been exempt from Alberta's Occupational Health and Safety Act since 1977.
Twenty-two people died in Alberta farm accidents in 2010, a shocking increase of nine fatalities over the previous year. By comparison, Saskatchewan recorded 10.
Saskatchewan farmers can also voluntarily apply for coverage under the province's Workers' Compensation legislation. Most agricultural employees in Alberta are not eligible for Workers' Compensation. Alberta farm workers also miss out on the protection of labour-standards legislation that provides for overtime, vacation days, time off and minimum wage, but that's another issue.
Alberta's response to its spike in farm fatalities was to appoint a committee. This week, in time for Farm Safety Week, it established a 15-member Farm Safety Advisory Council "to bring government and industry together towards the shared goal of improved farm safety." Creation of this council was first recommended in 2009 and again in 2010 after consultation with 20 "stakeholder groups."
The Alberta Federation of Labour calls this council an exercise in political public relations, and a half measure at best. AFL president Gil McGowan says the Alberta government lacks the courage to stand up to the pressure it is facing from big agricultural business not to introduce workplace safety rules.
But it's not just agricultural corporations that reject the idea of regulation. Smaller farmers don't want to be constrained by another pile of rules either. Many farmers oppose any imposition of OH&S standards, believing as one newly-appointed council member stated, that "farmers should regulate themselves."
"The farmers just don't want legislation telling them what to do," Lacombe-area grain farmer Kathy Pyper said Monday. "The farmers know how to make proper choices and sometimes they (government) get a little carried away with their regulations."
Nine of the 15 members of the new council are farmers. There's also a greenhouse operator, a veterinarian and a feed company official. If they all feel the same way, there is little hope for any reduction in farm accidents any time soon. So far, just talking about farm safety hasn't helped.
This response is typical in Alberta, which was the last province in Canada to implement seatbelt legislation -a full decade after Saskatchewan and British Columbia. Albertans value their freedom, but it is killing them in farmyards every year. Quite often the victims are small children who fall off farm machinery or run under the wheels of farm trucks. Three died on farms and ranches last year. They deserve our protection.
Agriculture Minister Jack Hayden says he hopes to receive draft recommendations for ways to improve farm safety within six months, but he concedes it will be at least a year before any changes could be implemented. And that's probably optimistic.
Will the changes be cosmetic? Will they involve colourful brochures and videos? How many years will pass before Alberta finally joins other provinces that already provide this necessary health-and-safety protection to agricultural workers?
And in the interim, how many more farm workers will die?
Edmonton Journal, Wed Mar 16 2011
Earlier this month, the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) called on Employment Minister Thomas Lukaszuk to yield to pressure to include paid agricultural employees under the Occupational Health and Safety Act and the Workers' Compensation Act. Currently in Alberta, agricultural employers are exempt from labour laws that require other industry sectors to provide employees health and safety coverage.
"It's not just farms and ranches, it's actually the entire agricultural sector that is exempt from basic workplace health and safety rules," said AFL president Gil McGowan, who represents 140,000 workers in Alberta. "If you work in a feedlot, if you work in a feedmill, if you work in a grain elevator, you're also considered an agricultural worker and exempt from basic health and safety, which I think is an important point, because it might triple the amount of people covered by the exemption."
Alberta's continuing policy to exempt the agricultural industry is a black mark on the province in comparison with other jurisdictions, according to McGowan.
"We think that the provincial government's ongoing exemption of farm workers from coverage under basic workplace health and safety is an embarrassment and a relic from the past, and even worse it puts agricultural workers at unnecessary risk of injury and fatality. Alberta is alone in denying agricultural workers basic protections under the law. "
The AFL was joined in lobbying the government and Minister Lukaszuk on the issue by various other labour and community organizations, as well as the Liberals and New Democrat MLA Rachel Notley.
"The United Food and Commercial Workers did as well, which is a union which represents agricultural workers, not here in Alberta, but in other provinces," said McGowan. "And the only reason they don't represent agricultural workers here in Alberta is because in addition to being exempt from the Occupational Health and Safety Act, which includes the Workers' Compensation Act, agricultural workers in Alberta are also exempt from the Employment Standards Code, which covers basic workplace conditions, and they're also exempt from the Labour Relations Code, which covers unionized workplaces, which means that agricultural workers don't have the right to join or form a union."
McGowan said it is hard to fathom why the government continues to push back against support for reform on the issue.
"If you look at injury rates and fatality rates, it's clear that agriculture is one of the most dangerous occupations in the province. And we think that is at least partly as a result of the fact that agricultural workplaces are not covered under the Occupational Health and Safety Act."
In McGowan's opinion, there are at least two discernible reasons the provincial government is resisting extending health and safety legislation to paid agricultural workers, none of which have the workers' best interests at heart.
"On the ideological side, this is a government that is reluctant to regulate even when the record is clear that regulation that workplaces got safer in Alberta and Canada when governments finally agreed to bring in workplace health and safety legislation in the 1970s and 1980s. That's simply beyond question - the decline in workplace injuries and deaths speak for themselves. On the political front, I think that the Conservative caucus has caved in to pressure from the agri-business lobby, companies that like things the way they are - they don't have to take responsibility for keeping their workers safe and healthy."
The AFL is also requesting the Farming and Ranching Exemption be amended to allow for investigations into all farm-related deaths, serious injuries or injuries involving a child, which might be accomplished by extending Section 38 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, permitting a minister to convene a board of inquiry into the circumstance of an accident.
"What these exemptions mean is that even when someone is injured or killed on an agricultural work site the government's own health and safety inspectors can't go to that worksite to investigate and find out what happened, and they also can't make recommendations to fix things so that it doesn't happen again."
Little Bow MLA Barry McFarland is confident that under most circumstances existing legislation serves the best interests of Albertans and the agricultural industry.
"I think for the most part it's (health and safety coverage) already available. Where I have a problem is where you come on to the mom and pop kind of farm, and start expecting to legislate what you have to do with your own family labour - that's problematic for me. If I were to hire somebody from outside the immediate family to work on the family farm, worker's compensation is available. I've got insurance that is available for coverage."
The issue of agri-businesses and large corporate farms that employ significant numbers of paid farm workers while remaining exempt from occupational health and safety legislation is another issue.
"Where I do understand where people are coming from is what I would call a commercial farm operation where you've got multitudes of employees - more than a family business, even though it might have the perception of being a family business," said McFarland.
McFarland is in support of considering health and safety coverage be applied in situations where large numbers of paid agricultural workers are employed by a corporate farm or agri-business.
"Unfortunately, anytime someone is killed or hurt, it becomes an issue. The commercial operations, I think there should be some adequate coverage there, and maybe we've got to start looking at making sure it's done through some kind of legislation."
Making sure that smaller-scale family farms don't become bogged down is the real problem in considering a legislative solution, according to McFarland.
"I think it's going to get reviewed, but I think the big drawback right now is making sure that they don't come on to Barry McFarland's farm, who's farming with his wife and two kids, and say look it, you've got to have all the harnesses on when you go up on your Quonset to change the light or something. And that's what happens in the private sector. But I've got insurance if you come to my place and get hurt - you're insured."
According to an AFL press release, there have been more than 160 accidental farm deaths in Alberta in the last decade.
Vauxhall Advance, Thurs Feb 10 2011
Byline: Trevor Busch
Alberta employment minister under pressure to change farm safety: Stakeholders write letters to minister asking for legislative changes to cover farm workers
"Three more Alberta farm workers have died in recent weeks, and yet the government continues with its absurd policy of excluding farms and ranches from the laws designed to make workplaces safe in other industries," said Gil McGowan, president of the AFL, which represents 140,000 workers.
The AFL sent a letter to Lukaszuk calling on him to extend the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) and the Workers' Compensation Act to cover all paid farm workers.
The AFL also requested that the Farming and Ranching Exemption be amended to allow for investigations into all farm-related deaths, serious injuries or injuries involving a child. This could be accomplished by extending section 38 of the OHSA, which permits a minister to convene a board of inquiry into the circumstance of an accident, to apply to the farming and ranching industries.
There have been more than 160 accidental farm deaths in the last decade in Alberta, according to the AFL.
"There is a growing feeling in Alberta that farm workers deserve the same protection that other Albertans enjoy and that accidents on farms must be investigated," said McGowan.
Similar letters are being been sent to the minister by NDP MLA Rachel Notley, the Alberta Liberals and by Wayne Hanley, national president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Canada.
Canadian Safety Reporter, Sat Jan 21 2011
The special audits - which involved 298 occupational health and safety inspections of 146 commercial construction employers - resulted in a stunning 214 orders being issued for safety violations.
A quarter of the orders (39) were stop-work orders: meaning the site was too unsafe for work to continue. A full quarter of the orders were for fall hazards.
"The violations uncovered in these audits are obviously just the tip of the iceberg and they demonstrate why Alberta continues to be the most dangerous place in Canada to be a worker," says McGowan, adding that the government is learning all the wrong lessons from the special audits.
"Sadly, the results of the audit are no big surprise to those of us who have been calling for a crackdown on safety violations in construction," says McGowan.
"What is a surprise is that the government isn't pledging to provide any more resources to deal with what is obviously a very big and very pervasive problem."
McGowan says that the Department of Employment is trying to spin the audit as a good news story - on the grounds that the audit proves the government is taking safety seriously.
"But this is the opposite of good news. The government has documented a huge problem, but now they say they're going to move on to do audits in other sectors instead of conducting even more random inspections in construction. They've demonstrated that were facing an epidemic of unsafe work on construction sites around the province, but they don't seem to have a plan to deal with that epidemic."
He added, "These audit results are a wake-up call. But the government seems determined to keep sleepwalking past the problem."
Alberta's workplace fatality rates are consistently among the highest in Canada.
Two years ago, the last year for which comprehensive national statistics are available, there were 5.9 deaths per hundred thousand workers in Alberta.
In the rest of Canada, the 2008 national average was 4.2 deaths per hundred thousand workers.
The fact that Alberta spends less on workplace safety is particularly alarming when you consider that, as a proportion of our workforce, Alberta has far more people working in construction and other dangerous industries than other provinces.
"Given the fact that so many Albertans work in dangerous industries, we should be spending more on safety and doing more in terms of inspections and enforcement than other provinces: but we don't. As the economy picks up, especially in the oil patch and construction sectors, the government of Alberta needs to take immediate action to improve health and safety," says McGowan.
"The recession gave us a short reprieve, but if simple and common-sense changes - like hiring more inspectors - aren't made today, Alberta will, once again, regain its title as the province with the highest number of workplace fatalities in Canada," added McGowan.
Hanna Herald, Fri Jan 21 2011
Employment minister under pressure to change farm-safety laws: There are growing calls to extend legislation to cover farm workers, says AFL
Edmonton - As the death toll continues on Alberta farms, the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) today called on Employment Minister Thomas Lukaszuk to do the right thing and extend health and safety laws to protect farm workers.
"Three more Alberta farm workers have died in recent weeks, and yet the government continues with its absurd policy of excluding farms and ranches from the laws designed to make workplaces safe in other industries," says Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, which represents 140,000 workers.
Today, the AFL sent a letter to Minister Lukaszuk, calling on him to extend the Occupational Health and Safety Act and the Workers' Compensation Act to cover all paid farm workers.
The AFL also requested that the Farming and Ranching Exemption be amended to allow for investigations into all farm-related deaths, serious injuries, or injuries involving a child. This could be accomplished by extending Section 38 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, which permits a Minister to convene a board of inquiry into the circumstance of an accident, to apply to the farming and ranching industries.
The letter says: "We note that in the recent deaths Occupational Health and Safety inspectors have been unable to conduct investigations due to the continuing exemption of paid farm workers from the Occupational Health and Safety Act. It is inconsistent to say the province wants to improve farm safety when it does not investigate accidents to establish how they happened."
This change to the Farming and Ranching Exemption could be accomplished by a simple Order-in-Council and would result in a legal avenue for investigations into serious incidents involving paid farm workers.
There have been more than 160 accidental farm deaths in the last decade, clear evidence that farms are industrial worksites like any other and that farm workers deserve the same protection as other Albertans. "These tragic accidents underline the absurdity of paid farm workers being excluded from the protection that other Albertans enjoy," says McGowan in the letter.
"There is a growing feeling in Alberta that farm workers deserve the same protection that other Albertans enjoy and that accidents on farms must be investigated," says McGowan. Similar letters are being been sent to the Minister by NDP MLA Rachel Notley, the Alberta Liberals and by Wayne Hanley, national president of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Canada.
Gil McGowan, President, Alberta Federation of Labour @ cell 780-218-9888 or office 780-483-3021