Food inspectors say a management takeover at the plant at the centre of Canada's largest beef recall will not impact their decision about if and when the facility can reopen.
In a statement issued Thursday, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) said the fact management of the shuttered XL Foods plant in Brooks, Alta., will be handed over to a subsidiary of processing company JBS USA will not affect its review of the facility's procedures and products.
Wednesday's deal also gives JBS the option to buy the Brooks plant as well as other XL facilities and operations.
"The CFIA's decisions have been, and continue to be, based on scientific evidence and a precautionary approach to protect consumers," said the agency.
The meat-processing plant currently at the centre of Canada's largest beef recall, which includes about 2,000 products, had its licence suspended Sept. 27 following concerns about E. coli contamination.
The CFIA last week began an inspection of the plant after XL said it had made the required changes to get its licence back.
On the weekend, the company temporarily laid off 2,000 workers, then recalled 800 of them Tuesday so inspectors could continue their assessment. The employees were back out of work Wednesday.
Alberta Premier Alison Redford Thursday said reopening the plant continues to be a priority for the province, as does the promotion of Alberta beef as a safe and healthy product.
"We've been working very hard to get that plant open as soon as possible so that it doesn't adversely impact either beef producers or employees," she said.
Provincial Agriculture Minister Verlyn Olson said he's taking the transfer of management to JBS as "a good sign that XL is serious about the continued operation of the plant," adding JBS is highly respected in the industry.
Olson, who is in continued talks with federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz, wouldn't comment on whether the JBS deal suggests previous management problems at the Brooks facility.
"We are not looking to point the finger at anybody who's at fault here. We're not looking for a public flogging, we just want the plant open, producing safe food," he said.
Meanwhile, Doug O'Halloran, president of the union representing XL workers, said he and Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, sent Redford a letter asking her to reconsider a public inquiry into the situation surrounding XL.
He also wants food-safety inspections to be moved under the federal government's health division as opposed to the agriculture division.
SunNews, Thurs Oct 18 2012
Byline: Jenna McMurray
Cleanliness suffers as beef moves too fast at Alberta meat plant shut down over E. coli concerns, union says
BROOKS, Alta. — The union for workers at an Alberta meat packer shut down over E. coli concerns says the pace of slaughter operations forces workers to take shortcuts around cleanliness and puts the health of beef-eating Canadians at risk.
Doug O'Halloran, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 401, said the processing line at the XL Foods Lakeside plant in Brooks moves too quickly and he wants to see a public inquiry into the problems that led to the plant's shutdown.
O'Halloran told a news conference Wednesday that between 300 and 320 carcasses go by workers every hour and employees make between 3,000 and 4,000 cuts a shift. That has resulted in less time in which to make sure knives are sanitized after each cut.
"It's just not enough time," O'Halloran said. "We are calling on Lakeside to take it seriously. You can replace all the aluminum, all the stainless steel you want at the plant, but if you don't give your workers the tools to perform the job properly, we're not going to solve this problem."
O'Halloran cited other examples of poor hygiene at the plant.
He said cattle are supposed to be washed before they enter to ensure their fur is free of manure. But sometimes the water is not hot enough to get off all the excrement.
He also said excrement from the cattle has backed up on the killing floor at times and forced workers to traipse through the waste and track it through the plant.
O'Halloran said the plant's increasing reliance on temporary foreign workers is also a problem. The company has not worked with the union to ensure the workers are properly trained and know what their rights are, he added.
The union boss said whistleblower protection is needed for workers who are afraid to speak out about problems for fear of reprisal.
"Lakeside, you've got one chance to get this correct. We understand you're spending lots of money, but you're still not listening to the people who are the most important in your food safety — the workers who are doing the job. "They are going to get you through this day and it's time you woke up and listened to them."
There were about 80 front-line workers from the plant packed into the media conference room at a Brooks hotel. Most refused to comment, saying their English was poor or they were fearful of getting into trouble.
Wilfer Garcia, who has been working at the XL Foods plant for close to two years after coming to Canada from Colombia, expressed sympathy for those on the line.
"To do a piece of meat, they need, say, 30 seconds to do each one, but because there's less people, more pieces are coming and they have to put pieces on top of the other ones. It makes a problem," said Garcia, who works in packing.
Even if several employees don't show up for work, the pace and expectations remain the same, Garcia said.
"One way or another there's not enough employees for the 4,000 pieces that they process every day," he added.
No one from XL Foods Inc. was available for comment. The company has limited its communication to news releases since an expansive recall began.
Earlier this week, co-CEO Brian Nilsson issued a statement saying the company had fixed the problems that forced food safety officials to shut down the plant. He expressed regret over "the illnesses caused by the consumption of beef products."
Inspectors with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency were at the plant on Tuesday for what was termed a pre-inspection. A report from that visit was being reviewed Wednesday.
Agency spokeswoman Lisa Gauthier said the pre-inspection is just one step in a multi-step process to determine if the plant is safe to resume operating.
O'Halloran said the food agency and the federal government share some of the responsibility for what has happened.
He said while the 46 agency staff the federal government says are positioned at the plant do a good job, they are overworked and don't have the authority they need to shutter operations when things go wrong.
"Somebody better wake up and put some teeth in the CFIA because they don't have any teeth now."
Although the workers have been paid for 32 hours a week since the plant has been shut down, it's a far cry from the 40 hours most work on a regular basis.
"You don't know where your money is coming from," added Christa Josephson.
Her friend Jenn Lupanko said the workers wake up every day hoping to hear some good news. The uncertainty has been tough, she said.
"It's quite difficult when you have a family and you have rent and bills and cars, but you do what you have to do," she added.
"But I think it will be fine. I think Lakeside will come out of this and it will be better than it was."
Gil McGowan with the Alberta Federation of Labour and Alberta NDP Leader Brian Mason said the province has a role to play in pushing for more oversight.
"Our provincial government has to do more than act as cheerleaders for the industry," McGowan said.
"This has damaged the brand of Alberta beef in a way that has been very, very serious," added Mason.
To date, 12 people in four provinces have been infected by a strain of E. coli that has been linked to the plant. The latest case is in Quebec, the Public Health Agency of Canada said Wednesday.
The bacteria in beef from the Brooks plant was first discovered in tests done by U.S. officials at the border on Sept. 3.
The U.S. stopped accepting shipments of beef from the company on Sept. 13. A recall of ground beef was eventually issued Sept. 16 and has been expanded numerous times.
The CFIA revoked the plant's operating licence on Sept. 27.
More than 1,800 XL Foods products have been recalled across Canada, along with more than 1.1 million kilograms of beef exported to the U.S. and 20 other countries.
Simply allowing the plant to reopen will not solve all of the problems that the recall and closure have caused the beef industry.
Officials estimate the Brooks facility sends about 60 per cent of the beef it slaughters to the United States. More than two dozen retail chains in more than 30 states are involved in the beef recall.
The XL Foods plant in Brooks has 2,200 workers, the town's largest employer.
O'Halloran did commend the company for paying workers during the shutdown.
Brooks Mayor Martin Shields said there hasn't been much of a ripple effect in the community since workers are still getting paid.
"Brooks is a little sensitive to a lot of the negativity that is being focused on our community that we don't think is accurate," he said. "Does this add to that negativity? Yes, but we believe the cattle operation will be back. "
A lot of the union's complaints are not new, Shields added.
"People have a short memory because I've heard this with the previous owner and the owner before that. To me, this is a union lobbying for things that they want," he said.
"It's an opportunity for them to gain some airtime for their issues and their issues can be very valid, but to me that's a union employee and a business issue and it is up to them to work that out.
"What you see is concern and the workers are anxious: 'Am I going to go back to work? Do I have a job?' Because the rumours are just unrelenting in what could happen. If you're a worker there you're absolutely concerned.
"I'm optimistic the plant will be reopened soon."
National Post, October 11 2012
Byline: Bill Graveland, Canadian Press
Union holds news conference to discuss safety protocols, meat production expectationsThe union representing workers at XL Foods Inc. is calling for a public inquiry into the massive beef recallat the company's meat-packing plant in Brooks, Alta.
Doug O'Halloran, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 401, said the federal government is to blame for cutting back on much-needed funding.
"We don't think the government can do the inquiry, we think they are part of the problem," he said at a news conference Wednesday afternoon.
O'Halloran said Canadian Food Inspection Agency inspectors are doing a good job, but added there needs to be more of them.
He also voiced concerns that CFIA inspectors don't have the authority to shut down a line if they think there is a safety concern.
O'Halloran said employees have been getting paid since the closure of the plant, and urged employee involvement going forward.
“It’s tragic that we had to have this situation, but I think in the long run we’re going to have an industry that’s better, that’s greater," O’Halloran said.
"We want to work with XL, we want them to be part of the solution, but they’ve got to listen to the workers.”
Employees speak out
XL Foods employee Wilfred Garcia says workers feel pressure to keep production lines moving — sometimes at the expense of food safety practices.
"There's not enough employees for the 4,000 pieces they process every day...and that's why there's this problem too," Garcia said.
XL 'saddened' by union claims
XL Foods released a statement late Wednesday afternoon in response to the union. The company said management has always been open to discuss plant operations with workers.
“I am saddened that the UFCW has chosen to attack the workmanship of its many members. We have extensive training programs for new workers and hold our workers in the highest regard for their abilities,” said co-CEO Brian Nilsson in the release.
The statement also noted that the line speed at XL Foods is within regulatory requirements.
Quebec E. coli illness confirmed
O’Halloran's comments came just before a 12th case of E. coli was confirmed. A Quebec investigation linked an illness in the province two weeks ago to E. coli O157, the strain at the centre of the XL Foods investigation. The affected individual has since recovered.
That brings the total of E. coli cases to 12 — seven cases in Alberta, one in Newfoundland, one in B.C. and three in Quebec — according to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
'Culture change needed'
Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, said Wednesday there needs to be a change to the employer's approach to food safety.
"There is a culture in that plant that puts priority on quantity over quality and until that changes we’re going to continue to struggle," said McGowan.
Keith Warriner, director of the University of Guelph’s food safety and quality assurance program, said there has been a lot of finger-pointing over food safety at the plant.
“In a lot of ways, it’s passing the buck,” said Warriner.
“Workers passing the buck to the management, management passing the buck to the CFIA.”
Warriner also said it was “obvious” to him the CFIA is complacent in stepping back.
XL Foods silence 'damaging'
Alberta's Wildrose Party Leader Danielle Smith said XL Foods’ silence over the E. coli problems at the Brooks, Alta., plant has been damaging. “I think that the principal responsibility now for communicating with the public comes down to the company,” said Smith.
“I'd like to see XL Foods, someone, stand up in a press conference with the regulators at their side and talk about what they're doing to restore confidence to make people aware that they've taken this seriously, they apologize for it.”
Smith also said federal and provincial officials may not have done everything possible to deal with the situation.
Alberta NDP Leader Brian Mason said repeated comments from federal officials that the system works well were ridiculous.
“They're not interested in getting to the facts and finding out what went wrong and being honest and straightforward and transparent with the public about something as important as the safety of the food that they eat and serve their children," said Mason.
"We need to have an inquiry and find out what in fact went wrong.”
The Lakeside Packers plant shut down Sept. 26 after the CFIA linked the facility to several beef products tainted with E. coli. More than 1,800 products have been recalled.
CFIA expanded its beef recall again Wednesday night to include some beef jerky sold in New Brunswick and corned beef sold in Quebec. Product details can be found on the CFIA's website.
Agency officials said they will check safety controls and determine if XL Foods has fixed the problems that were uncovered by federal inspectors.
On Tuesday, XL Foods said it had addressed all the safety issues and concerns raised by the CFIA.
"The company has completed implementing corrective action requests issued by the CFIA following the findings of their investigation," XL Foods said in a statement.
CBC News, Oct 10 2012
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
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
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