New farm safety rules 'useless'
Experts hit out at voluntary certifications
A provincially funded research body says a leaked proposal for voluntary safety certification of Alberta's agriculture industry won't curb the rising rate of farm deaths and injuries.
The director of the Alberta Centre for Injury Control and Research said Monday that his group's advice to a government-appointed committee - that the province impose health and safety regulations on farms like every other jurisdiction in the country - was ignored.
"Our input was based on the science but it wasn't listened to," U of A epidemiologist Don Voaklander said.
"These corporate farms, large feedlots and custom haying operations are no different than businesses that are drilling for oil or fixing your car. The agrarian myth of the rugged family farm just doesn't apply."
Recent statistics show 355 Albertans have died and 678 were seriously-injured in the past three decades. About nine per cent of the fatalities involved hired workers.
In a report obtained by The Herald and submitted to the province last February, the Farm Safety Advisory council recommended increased education and voluntary certification of farms to improve the industry's worsening safety record.
But Voaklander, whose centre depends on $1.5 million a year from Alberta Health, said a 2008 study of a similar program in neighbouring Saskatchewan found no significant difference in injury rates among participating farms.
"We're directed to be at arm's length from the government," he said.
"I mean I'm not going to go out and (criticize a minister or the government) ... but there's very little evidence that education of farmers actually works."
Premier Alison Redford promised during her Tory leadership campaign last fall that she would extend health and safety law protection to farm workers if elected, but on Monday her staff referred questions on the issue to cabinet.
With Agriculture Minister Vern Olson and Human Ser-vices Minister Dave Hancock both declining to be inter-viewed about a report they've been studying for nearly seven months, opposition critics hammered the Tory government for delaying while farm workers continued to be killed and injured on the job.
"It's immoral," Calgary Liberal MLA Dr. David Swann said.
"This government, whose voter base has been traditionally rural, is hard-pressed to put in place what they would call onerous rules but which are absolutely the norm in Western civilization."
New Democrat MLA Rachel Notley said it would be delusional for the government to accept the advisory council's philosophy that farm workers, particularly a fastincreasing number of vulnerable temporary migrants, can be educated to assert their right to refuse dangerous work.
"Premier Redford has capitulated to a strong conservative lobby within her caucus and without," Notley said.
Calgary Wildrose MLA Jeff Wilson said his party supports the council's call for farm safety education programs to curb the rising fatality and injury rate.
"We do believe the safety of those working on farms should be worldclass," said Wilson, "but we also don't want to add more burdens or complicated regulations to the farming community."
Calgary Herald, Sunday Sept 16 2012
Byline: Matt McClure
August 2012: Two-tier minimum wage; AFL 100 years Labour Day; AB govt no longer reports farm fatalities; Harper's low-wage agenda; Bogus labour-shortage figures; Billions lost in royaliti...
Two-Tier Minimum Wage
- lberta's poorly written two-tier minimum wage system is open to abuse by employers who are taking advantage of these laws to rip off the lowest-paid workers in Alberta. West End Swiss Chalet is one example. For more information see Aug 31 AFL release and backgrounder
AFL's 100 Years
- sure to have a look at our insert in the Edmonton Journal on Friday, August 31, 2012 – a special Labour Day message from Gil McGowan and a 10 page special on the past and present struggles of workers in Alberta.
Government trying to erase agricultural workers by no longer reporting farm fatalities
- The Alberta government's decision to stop reporting farm fatalities is an attempt to move the issue to the back burner and off the public radar. Farm workers are already left unprotected under health and safety regulations. For more information see Aug 20 AFL release.
Government documents reveal source of Harper's low-wage agenda
- nternal federal government documents show the source of Harper's low-wage agenda. Last year, a select group of CEOs and other business leaders were invited by the federal Conservatives to an annual closed-doors conference where they urged the Tories to adopt measures to reduce the pay of Canadian workers, limit union power by enacting U.S.-style right-to-work legislation, and allow two-tier health care. For more information...
AFL shows government using bogus labour-shortage figures
- The government is using bizarre calculations to show a catastrophic "labour shortage" even though their own figures show a labour surplus for every year until 2021. The AFL revealed that the government's own figures show the supply of labour exceeding the demand for labour – a labour surplus – well into the future. For more information see July 25 AFL release and backgrounder
New Study shows billions in lost royalty revenue after Northern Gateway
- he Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) and Parkland Institute released a study showing Albertans will let billions slip through their fingers if the Northern Gateway Pipeline is approved and constructed. If Alberta met royalty targets in place when Lougheed was Premier, the province would have $1 trillion in the Heritage Fund by 2039. For more information... see Aug 9 AFL release and backgrounder
Statement from Gil McGowan on the proposed takeover of Nexen by the China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC)
- Does it matter who owns the oil sands? You bet it does!" explains AFL president Gil McGowan. "If foreign governments are allowed to expand in Alberta through companies like China National, they'll develop the oil sands in their own best interest, not in the best interest of Canadians." For more information...July 24 AFL release
UFCW 1118 workers on strike for fair wages and working conditions
- FCW 1118 sisters and brothers at Lilydale Foods' North Edmonton shop are on strike for wages comparable to those in other Lilydale plants. The employer refuses to pay wages on par with other Lilydale plants despite the fact that these workers work harder by handling larger and heavier poultry. The employer has cut the number of workers on the floor, meaning those left on the floor have to work harder while their wages have remained the same. Workers are also asking for a guaranteed minimum number of hours per week. There are about 200 workers on strike in shifts of about 75. Support these workers on the picket line at 127 Avenue and 76 Street in Edmonton. Pickets will be going in shifts between Monday and Friday, 6:00 AM and 6:30 PM.
September2:Calgary Pride Parade
September 3: EDLC Labour Day BBQ
September 3: Labour Day
September 5: Official Opening Historical Display, Alberta Provincial Museum
September 7: AFL Education Committee
September 8: World Literacy Day
September 10: AFL Women's Committee
September 11: AFL WOCAW Committee
October 1: AFL Pride and Solidarity Committee
October 2-3: AFL Executive Council
October 8: Thanksgiving
October 14-17: CEP National Convention
October 17: National Day for the Eradication of Poverty
October 18: Persons Day
November 23-25: Parkland Fall Conference
January 14-19, 2013: AFL Weeklong School
Lack of protection for Alberta farm workers was highlighted Aug. 20 by Alberta's New Democrats and the Alberta Federation of Labour.
The two groups used the occasion of the AFL-designated Alberta farm workers day to urge the provincial government to extend occupational health and safety laws and workers compensation benefits to farm employees.
NDP agriculture critic David Eggen said his party issues the call every year to increase standards under which farm workers can be protected.
"It's very dangerous work and farm workers are not being protected with the basic rights that other workers have here in the province of Alberta," Eggen said at a Lethbridge news conference.
"They're far behind the rest of Canadian farm workers. It shows callous disregard to an important sector of our population."
Shannon Phillips, AFL director of policy analysis, said previous Progressive Conservative governments have explained lack of farm worker protections as a way to avoid intrusion on family farm operations.
"We find that excuse to be just that," said Phillips, adding the explanation is a red herring for government failure to provide adequate worker protection.
"There is no excuse any more. And we also have a premier on the record saying that she is going to do this."
In her leadership campaign, Alberta premier Alison Redford said farm laborers should have protection.
However, no changes have been made to legislation since Redford's election earlier this year that would affect farm worker status.
Phillips said many farms are large commercial operations with workplaces like any other, so workers deserve the same protections offered in other sectors.
In a later interview, Eggen echoed those opinions.
"The large farms that have been amalgamated into companies and corporations now need to be the very first up to give full rights to their workers," he said. "In regards to smaller operations, we can have a differentiated approach, with the provincial government providing some of those premiums to the smaller operators. Large corporate farms need to pay full freight on their workers' rights and compensation immediately."
Eggen and Phillips noted recent evidence that the province no longer tracks and reports farm worker fatalities. Queries were instead directed to dated data on the Canadian Farm Injury Reporting website.
However, agriculture ministry spokesperson Stuart Elson said Aug. 23 that 2011 farm injury and fatality statistics would be posted within a few days.
"We just want to make sure we are respecting the privacy of the families, but we're actually going to be putting up some updated stats."
He said concerns were raised about the level of detail in Alberta farm fatality reporting, so the process was reviewed.
"We will be posting it pretty quickly.
At the news conference earlier in the week, Eggen expressed concern about lack of available 2011 data.
"I think the statistics have been embarrassing, quite frankly. We have seen historically 160 deaths here in the province of Alberta around farm workers since Alberta started to keep the statistics."
Alberta is the only province that excludes farm workers from occupational health and safety laws and from regulations governing hours of work, overtime and vacation pay.
Phillips said the matter has been studied for years by successive PC governments but with no action taken.
"This thing has been studied and studied and studied to death. Over the nine years that the provincial government said they were consulting on this topic, 160 people died."
The Western Producer, Friday August 31 2012
The Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) says the government's decision to withhold information on farm fatalities is an attempt to move the issue to the back burner and off the public radar. The AFL represents over 150,000 Alberta workers.
"Farm workers are already left unprotected under health and safety regulations," says AFL Secretary Treasurer Nancy Furlong. "The decision to cease reporting fatalities is a painful example of how agricultural workers are being erased in Alberta."
The news that the province would stop reporting information on farm worker deaths and injuries was delivered through a government website; the province offered no meaningful explanation for the change.
Alberta remains the only province where farm workers are excluded from occupational health and safety laws, as well as legislation governing hours of work and overtime, statutory holidays, vacation pay, the right to refuse unsafe work, being informed of work-related dangers and compensation if they are injured on the job.
"It is the government's duty to protect workers, but also to report their deaths and injuries. Death and injury prevention requires knowledge of the frequency and nature of the incidents," says Furlong, noting that the latest data available on the agency now reporting these statistics, the Canadian Agriculture Injury Reporting, is from 2005.
"The Alberta Federation of Labour declared August 20 as Farm Workers Day at our 2005 Convention, and has been calling on the government to allow farm workers the same protections as most Alberta workers enjoy," says Furlong. "It's particularly insulting to the families of those killed on the job to have to call on the government to continue to simply report these incidents.
"This decision to stop reporting the number and nature of farm deaths helps to hide the real problem—Alberta's deplorable lack of workplace protection for farms workers in the province," concludes Furlong.
Workers' Compensation Institute, Tuesday August 28 2012
Liberal MLA David Swann has called on one snack food company to stop using Alberta-produced potatoes, as child labour in the province's industry remains unregulated.
In Alberta, one member of the legislative assembly is calling for a boycott of potato farms in the Canadian province, stating that child labour continues to be employed on the farms. The company he targeted in particular was snack foods manufacturer and potato-chip giant, Frito Lay.
Human Services Minister Dave Hancock defended the family farm in the Edmonton Journal. "I think it's unfair to Alberta producers, and Albertans, to write a letter to one of the chief buyers saying, 'Don't buy anything from Alberta in this area because someone might be using child labour,'" he said.
Some companies attempt to refrain from using child or forced labour as part of their ethical sourcing requirements or corporate social responsibility endeavours. David Swann would like to see the company refrain from buying Alberta potatoes under similar provisions.
On the other hand, Rob Van Roessel of the Potato Growers of Alberta is proud of the safety protocols it has pioneered in the industry. Work for children is safe so long as supervision and training is adequate he is reported saying in the Edmonton Journal.
Citing the Alberta Federation of Labour, the Edmonton Journal reports that agriculture-related fatalities are no longer government-reported. Mr. Swann, however, estimated the number to be 30 over the span of two decades. Eric Muse amp, president of the Farm Workers Union of Alberta, says that a third of agriculture fatalities are among children.
In 2008 alone, reports the Calgary Herald, six of the 23 agriculture-related deaths were among children. Many of the fatalities among children in recent years involved machinery and infrastructure—a 12-year-old pinned under a shop door; a five-year old falling off a wagon in tow of a tractor; a seven-year-old crushed at an industrial feedlot; two young children buried in grain off-loaded by a truck; a four-year-old run over; a nine-year old killed by a rolling tractor while another was asphyxiated after falling into a grain hopper; and two other youth under twelve were thrown from a truck to their deaths.
Divisions between child labour a child work can be a contentious issue. Countries around the world have different minimum ages of employment. Different rules may apply to children working on farms as compared to other industries.
According to the Canadian Labour Congress, "Alberta Employment Standards Code permits the employment of 12 to 14 year olds with the written consent of one parent or guardian. The employment of children under 12 is prohibited."
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Canada is a state party, aims to protect children from child labour. The International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention 182 on the worst forms of child labour also outlaws hazardous work for children. Hazardous work is labour dangerous to the health, safety and morals of a child.
SOSChilldren's Villages, Tuesday August 28 2012
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
Union says workers unprotected
The Alberta Federation of Labour is criticizing the provincial government for no longer reporting farm fatalities.
The federation says the move is an example of how "agricultural workers are being erased in Alberta."
"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," spokeswoman Nancy Furlong said in a release Monday.
"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."
The federation says the province is the only one in Canada where farm workers aren't covered by occupational health and safety laws. It says they are also excluded from legislation on hours of work and overtime, statutory holidays and vacation pay.
A judicial inquiry in 2008 into the death of worker Kevin Chandler in a farm accident near High River, Alta., recommended the inclusion of farm labourers in laws ensuring workplace protections.
"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," said Furlong.
The federation says the province announced its plans on a government website and offered no meaningful explanation for the change.
Alberta Agriculture said Monday it is reviewing how it publishes information about farmworker deaths and injuries with an eye to protecting the privacy of victims and their families.
Stuart Elson, a ministry spokesman, said updated statistics could be available later this week.
On the larger question of when or if the government will introduce workplace safety legislation to protect farms workers, Elson said at least two ministries are studying the issue.
"Education and awareness are best suited to the practical realities of farming," he said.
"We are continuing to work with the Ministry of Human Services to improve farm safety. That is all I can really say at this point."
The NDP's agriculture critic used a stop in Lethbridge, Alta., to blast the government for what he called inaction on workplace safety for farm workers.
David Eggen said it's disturbing that the lives of Alberta labourers on the land appear to mean so little to the government.
"It's very dangerous work and farm workers are not being protected with the basic rights that other workers have here in Alberta," Eggen said.
"They're far behind the rest of Canadian farm workers and now suddenly (Premier Alison) Redford makes the page go dark on the statistics that we can use to track farm workers here in the province."
Liberal critic David Swann said there are an average of 30 farm deaths a year over the last 20 years.
"Despite the number of injuries and deaths among farm workers ... the government has undertaken no action to require improved health and safety conditions surrounding paid agriculture employees," he said in a release.
Hamilton Spectator, Mon, Aug 21 2012
The Canadian Press
The Alberta government has stopped reporting farm fatalities and labour groups are asking why.
"This year when we went to find out how many people had died, because we try to do that every year, and we found that the government of Alberta wouldn't report farm fatalities anymore," says Nancy Furlong with the Alberta Federation of Labour. "We don't even get to know publicly how many of them have lost their lives."
The Alberta Federation of Labour says the intent is to hide the lack of workplace protection for farms workers in the province.
"Something needs to happen because farm workers are not covered by occupational health and safety legislation, they are not covered by mandatory workers compensation coverage, they are not entitled to join unions," says Furlong. "So they are treated very badly in terms of their protection as workers."
The federation says Alberta is the only province where farm workers aren't covered by occupational health and safety rules.
Furlong says they have never received a satisfying explanation for why farm workers are not covered.
She says they understand it's hard to differentiate between child labour and family farms, but says that is no excuse.
"So there is a challenge there, but no one is rising to that challenge," Furlong says. "From our perspective it's better to say they are all covered and then make exceptions, rather than say they are all not covered."
DrumhellorOnLine, Tues Aug 21 2012
Byline: Sarah Copeland
Alberta's decision to withhold information on farm fatalities is an attempt to move the issue off the public radar, according to the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL), an umbrella union organization representing more than 15,000 workers.
The change was announced "unceremoniously" on a government website, the AFL said.
"The decision to cease reporting fatalities is a painful example of how agricultural workers are being erased in Alberta," said AFL secretary treasurer Nancy 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."
Alberta is the only province in Canada where farm workers are excluded from occupational health and safety laws, according to the AFL. These workers are also exempt from legislation governing hours of work and overtime, statutory holidays, vacation pay, the right to refuse unsafe work and compensation if they are injured on the job, the organization said.
The AFL finds the change especially troubling in light of a 2008 judicial inquiry into the death of Kevin Chandler, a farm worker killed near High River, Alta., that recommended the inclusion of farm labourers in workplace protection laws.
"It is the government's duty to protect workers, but also to report their deaths and injuries," said Furlong, noting the latest data available from the agency now reporting these statistics, the Canadian Agriculture Injury Reporting, is from 2005.
"Death and injury prevention requires knowledge of the frequency and nature of the incidents," Furlong said.
The province's NDP also criticized the government, calling for legislative changes that would extend health and safety regulations to Alberta's farm workers.
"Frankly, it's disturbing that the lives and livelihoods of Alberta's farm workers mean so little to this government," says NDP agriculture critic David Eggen.
There have been 160 farm-related deaths between 2001 and 2011, the NDP said in a press release.
"This is challenging, dangerous work, and I'm calling on the government today to give farm workers the same rights and protections given to almost all other working Albertans," Eggen said.
The Alberta Liberal Party also spoke out against the issue.
"In Alberta, paid farm workers work without the basic rights and benefits of all other paid employees," said David Swann, the party's agriculture critic. "We must recognize that Albertans are being nourished at the expense of farm workers' health, safety and labour fairness."
There has been an average of 30 farm deaths a year over the last 20 years, Swann said.
Cnd HR Reporter, Thomson Reuters, Tues Aug 21 2012