CALGARY-The Alberta Federation of Labour marked the first Alberta Farm Worker Day by announcing a strategy to pressure the Alberta government to include farm workers in the basic employment protections provided to other workers.
"In Alberta, if you work on a farm, you work in an environment with almost no protections. Nothing governs the hours of work, rate of pay or working conditions. You can't refuse unsafe work, and you can't get WCB if you are hurt," says AFL President Gil McGowan. "Farm workers are denied the basic protections all other workers take for granted."
"And looking across the country, Alberta is again at the back of the pack. Alberta offers the worst level of protection for farm workers in the country," observes McGowan. "We are the only province that has not committed to including farm workers in health and safety legislation."
"We are launching a strategy that proclaims "End the Drought!" to bring basic protections to farm workers," announces McGowan. "We hope to persuade the government to follow the lead of other provinces and protect farm workers."
McGowan also notes that the government continues to ignore the Supreme Court of Canada ruling that guarantees farm workers the right to organize unions.
"Things on the farm are different today. Huge hog barns and corporate farms are replacing small family farms. Large operators employ dozens of workers. Farming has changed. So should the law," says McGowan.
"A farm worker's life is about hard work and a constant fear of getting fired or cheated. Speak out and you get blackballed," says Eric Musekamp, President of the Farmworkers Union of Alberta (FUA). "We need legal protections to make our workplaces safer and more fair."
UFCW Canada agricultural worker coordinator, Stan Raper, was also at the announcement. His union has led the fight in Ontario for farm workers. "In Ontario, our Charter challenges brought about political change. We hope it doesn't take that much in Alberta for the government to see that farm workers deserve basic legal protections, just like every other worker," says Raper.
McGowan states that the AFL intends to make protection for farm workers a key issue for the labour movement over the coming months. The first phase of the strategy includes:
- Distributing a leaflet calling on Albertans to pressure the government
- Town hall meetings in rural communities
- Lobbying Human Resources Minister Mike Cardinal
- Asking Albertans to contact their local MLA
- Highlighting the issue in upcoming legislation reviews
Future actions will be determined depending on the response from the first phase.
The FUA called for August 20 to be Alberta Farm Worker Day to highlight the conditions agricultural workers experience. August 20, 1999 was the day a Taber-area farm worker was killed by his employer for overturning a water truck into a ditch.
"The AFL will commemorate Alberta Farm Worker Day as long as the government continues to deny them the basic protections every other worker takes for granted," concludes McGowan.
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For more information
Gil McGowan, AFL President at 780-915-4599(cell)
Jason Foster, AFL Director at 780-483-3021