It's been a sad week for workplace accidents in Alberta.
Five workers have died in as many days, in unrelated accidents.
The first accident happened Monday and involved a man who was on a scaffold, which rolled into a hole on a work site near Wainwright.
There were three deaths on Wednesday and a fifth on Friday, one involving a 19-year-old man who was killed after a ramp fell on him at a site near Conklin.
According to Gil McGowan, the President of the Federation of Labour, the government talks a good game in workplace safety but doesn't put their money where their mouth is.
"For years Alberta has had the second-highest rate of workplace fatalities in the country and we do have a very fast-paced labour market and economy," he said. "But even given that history, five deaths in one week is virtually unprecedented and for us in the labour movement, it really raises a red flag."
McGowan adds Alberta still has fewer workplace health and safety inspectors than virtually any other province per worker and is pushing for more since we have more workers in dangerous occupations than other provinces.
"We also have a government that is very, very reluctant to prosecute employers who break the rules and put their workers at risk," he said. "A lot of employers unfortunately think that there aren't that serious consequences for breaking the law when it comes to workplace safety and that needs to change."
No work will be completed on the sites as the deaths of the five workers are being investigated.
660 News, Sat Oct 20 2012
Byline: Megan Robinson and Chris Bowen
EDMONTON - Five people are dead in as many days after a spate of workplace accidents around the province this week.
Occupational Health and Safety spokesman Brookes Merritt said the incidents are not related but appear to be "a tragic coincidence."
Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan said the number of workplace deaths is deeply troubling.
"Five fatalities in a week, even in a face-paced economy like this, is almost unprecedented, and certainly unacceptable," he said. "It demonstrates there is still a lot of work to be done."
Merritt said the first fatality happened Monday and involved a 56-year-old man who was on a scaffold that rolled into a 1.2-metre hole on a work site near Wainwright. Merritt said the worker was ejected from the scaffold, hit his head during the fall and was taken to hospital by air ambulance. The man died on Thursday morning.
On Wednesday afternoon, a man fuelling a forklift at Mo Tires in Lethbridge was pinned between the vehicle and a shed. He was pronounced dead in hospital.
A third worker died about 10 a.m. Thursday after falling inside a chimney stack at the Battle River power plant southeast of Edmonton. He died at the scene.
Later that day, around 1:30 p.m., a 19-year-old man died after a ramp fell on him at the Blackgold oilfield site near Conklin.
A fifth worker was killed at about 4:45 a.m. Friday at a work site 25 kilometres south of Grande Prairie. In that case, a 29-year-old man died after being crushed between a piece of heavy machinery and a tank.
"Any time we see a fatality at the workplace it's tragic," Merritt said. "Investigating this number of fatalities in such a short period of time is equally tragic, if not more so."
Merritt said investigators are also looking into a case where three workers were injured at a site northwest of Edson on Thursday morning. The three were hit by a disconnected snubbing hose and were taken to hospital, one by air ambulance, with undisclosed injuries.
Stop-work orders have been issued at all of the sites, and investigators are looking into what happened in each case.
"Our Occupational Health and Safety investigators are determined to investigate each incident rigorously and ensure that the results of this investigations help us learn how to prevent similar incidents in the future," Merritt said.
McGowan said the deaths should be a "red waving flag" for government and industry, showing that the issue of workplace injury and death is still not being properly addressed.
He said the deaths underline a need to increase the number of workplace safety inspectors in the province, which he said still lags behind other provinces.
With about 20 per cent of the province's population working in high-risk industries such as construction and the oilfield — more than double the percentage in most other provinces — McGowan said Alberta should also have a greater than average number of inspectors.
"We hear a lot of rhetoric from the government and employers, but neither group seems to be putting its money where its mouth is," he said. "The death toll continues to mount."
Human Services Minister Dave Hancock was not available for comment on Friday.
There have been 103 work-related fatalities in Alberta this year; 37 workplace fatalities, 28 motor vehicle accidents, and 38 from occupational diseases. There were 43 deaths from workplace fatalities and 28 from motor vehicle accidents in 2011.
Merritt said there are currently 122 OHS investigators in the province, and there will be 132 by the beginning of 2013, an increase of 30 officers from 2009.
"The department is continuously looking at how best to use its resources to achieve its ultimate goal — to have no workplace injuries or fatalities in the province," he said.
Edmonton and District Labour Council president Brian Henderson called the week's deaths "horrible."
"When we have this many fatalities in one week, it just further elaborates how much workplace safety needs to be given priority with this government," he said.
Henderson said in addition to more investigators he wants to see stiffer penalties for companies found guilty of workplace health and safety violations.
"It's not just finding an employer guilty and giving them a fine ...," he said. "With five (deaths) alone this week, what is really being done out there?"
Jeff Wilson, Human Services critic for the Wildrose Party, said he, too, thinks government should do more to support workplace safety, including by further increasing investigators and identifying high-risk employers.
"The strength of our economy rests on workers being safe and secure in our workforce, and we have to do what we can to make sure they get home safe every night," he said.
The Edmonton Journal, Friday Oct 19 2012
Byline: Jana E. Prudent
The sister of a Sherwood Park man who drowned on the job in Fort McMurray is urging workers to watch out for each other.
Christopher Fontaine, 32, was found dead on Sept. 26 in a tank he'd been working on at a water treatment plant. His shift ended at 5:30 p.m. but his body wasn't found until the next day.
Catheline Fontaine questions why her brother was working by himself. She believes her brother's death could have been prevented if someone had checked on him.
Catheline Fontaine believes her brother's death could have been prevented. Catheline Fontaine believes her brother's death could have been prevented. (CBC)
"His truck was left in the yard, and everything, so it's like, how could you forget about somebody like him?" she asked. "He was so caring."
Fontaine took the unusual step this week of making a plea to Alberta workers in a full-page newspaper ad which was purchased by her brother's employer, Bird Construction.
"Look out for each other, we're all in this together and make sure you've all gone home safe, don't work alone," the ad reads. "I hope you remember this page and take care of each other and then my brother didn't die for nothing."
Fontaine says the ad was also a tribute to her brother.
"I just wanted everybody to know who he was and what he meant to me, because I guess I never really told him myself," she said.
Employers also responsible, labour group says
"Honestly, that ad really tugs at my heartstrings," said Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
McGowan argues workplace safety is a shared responsibility.
"We simply can't continue putting all responsibility for getting home safe at the end of the day on the shoulders of the individual workers," he said.
"We also need employers holding up their end and we need governments holding up their end and right now, in too many cases, that's not happening."
Occupational Health and Safety and the RCMP continue to investigate Chris Fontaine's death.
CBC News, Friday, Oct 05 2012
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
A leaked draft of a farm safety report is drawing new attention to a black hole in Alberta's labour legislation: Farm workers on traditional farms continue to be the only labour group in the province to be excluded from the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA), to serious repercussions.
The Farm Safety Advisory Council was set up two years ago to review existing health and safety laws for farm workers, and to determine whether changes are necessary. The council's report is not public, and is still going through the government approval process. The leaked draft, however, recommended that farm workers remain exempt from health and safety laws. The industry should self-regulate, the report allegedly said.
"Basically (farm workers) have nothing. They're not covered under Workers Compensation legislation. They're not covered under occupational health and safety legislation," said Randy Corbett from the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE). "If there's an accident on the farm, and that's right up to and including fatalities, Occupational Health and Safety won't investigate them because they're excluded from the legislation."
Only in Alberta, Workers Compensation Board (WCB) coverage is completely voluntary for traditional farm workers. Individual farm owners can choose to purchase it for their employees, or not. The AUPE represents nearly 80,000 working Albertans, none of them farm workers.
Between 1983 and 1993, there were 1,365 known deaths on Canadian farms, according to AUPE. Estimates suggest that farmers are five times more likely to be killed through occupation-related accidents than workers in all other industries.
Because of the lack of regulation, the government is relying on "education and awareness" to protect farm workers, according to David Hennig from Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development. The government recognizes that health and safety protection should be improved, and hired the advisory council to come up with recommendations.
The council, however, seems to consist predominately of big industry and government representatives.
The lack of health and safety regulation dates back to the 1950s, when most farms were small and family-owned, and the general consensus was not to interfere in the affairs of family farms.
Indeed today, on small acreages, health and safety issues remain minor. Reuben Loewen, farm owner in Fort St. John and president of Peace Region Forage Seed Association, gets all the work done within the family on his 1000-acre plot, and can't remember ever having a serious incident in his 40 years of work.
Heather Kerschbaumer's seed cleaning plant in Fairview, Golden Acre Seeds, falls under federal jurisdiction and as such has mandatory WCB coverage. But even so, in the more than 20 years of the farm's operations, the worst incident Kerschbaumer can recall among her seven or so staff is a sprained ankle.
In the experience of Kenda Lubeck, farm safety co-ordinator for Alberta Agriculture, small farm owners are generally receptive to improving health and safety conditions for workers.
But there is a difference between a small family farm and a commercial industrial operation. The large farms use heavy-duty equipment, and more of it. "When you get hit with them, you break," said Corbett. The three main risk factors for farm workers are all machine-related, and are the same across Grande Prairie, the province, and Canada: Runovers, rollovers, and entanglements.
Most farms in Alberta are large operations, with Peace Country farms being particularly big. Nationwide, the average farm size is 778 acres, but it is 1130 acres in the Peace, according to the 2011 Census of Agriculture. Province-wide in 2010, the 4,454 largest farms represented only 10% of all farms, but 71% of total revenue. The number of farms in Alberta with $500,000 or more in 2010 revenue increased by 18% from 2006 to 2011 figures, and those with less than $500,000 decreased by 15%.
Specific commercial agribusiness is covered by the Occupat ional Health and Safety Act, including greenhouse, mushroom, sod and nursery farming. But this does not include grain and canola producers.
If a farm worker is seriously injured or killed where there is no OHSA or WCB coverage, the only option he or she has is to sue the employer, and most don't have such resources. The problem is complicated further in the case of temporary foreign migrant labourers, whose short stays prevent them from pursuing compensation from their employers. Of all paid farm employees, 62% were seasonal or temporary, according to the 2011 Census of Agriculture.
Farms and hospitals in Grande Prairie are not required to report farm worker incidents, confirmed Lubeck. The county does not have statistics on the scale of the problem, creating an environment in which it is difficult for farm workers to demand changes to the regulation, should it be needed.
Premier Alison Redford committed to revising farm worker health and safety laws in her 2011 campaign. In line with this, the ministers of human services and agricultural development are meeting next week to look at safety and standards in the farming sector to determine what the next steps should be, confirmed Brookes Merritt from Alberta Human Services.
Grande Prairie Daily Herald-Tribune, Tuesday Oct 02 2012
Byline: Alina Konevski
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
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
Government accused of ignoring farm workers' rights
The Alberta government's failure to post its annual report of farm work-related fatalities has brought allegations from the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) that the province is deliberately trying to move the issue to the back burner.
However, Agriculture Ministry spokesperson Stuart Elson says the statistics will be posted "shortly," once the ministry finishes its review of how the statistics are reported.
"Some of the information we provided, it was providing a little bit too much detail in terms of identifying victims and putting some additional hardship on the families," says Elson. He says 16 people died while working on Alberta farms in 2011; down from the 22 reported in 2010 but about average for the past decade.
AFL secretary-treasurer Nancy Furlong says she is skeptical about Elson's answer, but says the issue of government inaction on farm worker issues is inexcusable.
The AFL is engaged in a long-term campaign to get farm workers covered by Occupational Health and Safety legislation. Alberta is the only Canadian province that excludes farm workers from labour laws, including rules governing working hours and conditions, age limits, pay and the right to refuse unsafe work.
Last year the AFL, NDP, Liberals, Farmworkers Union of Alberta and United Food and Commercial Workers Canada sent letters to then Agriculture minister Thomas Lukaszuk calling for legislative changes. The government refused, and instead created educational farm safety programs and created a 15-member advisory panel to study the implications of legislative changes. The AFL points out that 11 of the 15 members are agriculture employers, and only one is a worker representative.
On August 21, Liberal MLA David Swann weighed in, calling on major corporations like McDonald's and PepsiCo (owner of Frito Lay) to boycott Alberta-grown potatoes until Occupational Health and Safety, Workers' Compensation Board and child labour laws are expanded to cover agriculture employees.
The provincial government has long held that farm work is fundamentally different from other forms of labour because it traditionally relies on the unpaid labour of family members.
"We just want to make sure that we're bringing forth practical solutions to enhance farming but also respect the rural way of life and the needs of the family farm," explains Elson.
Furlong says that is illogical and ignores the majority of employees in the agriculture industry that work for large-scale operations.
"This is a historical thing, [it] was left over from before we had agribusiness, really, and most of this province was covered over with small farms," says Furlong. "We're going to continue to lobby the government and we're going to continue to hopefully educate the public to say 'this is astounding and outrageous.'"
The AFL represents over 150,000 Alberta workers. It states three-quarters of Alberta farms report incomes over $250,000, and that there are approximately 12,000 "farm workers" in the province. In 2005 the federation declared August 20 as "Farm Workers Day."
FFWD News, Thurs Aug 23 2012
Byline: Suzy Thompson
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