Here are answers to frequently asked questions about Bill 6 - Enhanced Protection of Farm and Ranch Workers ActRead more
More than 50,000 Albertans work in the agricultural sector. They account for 2.6 per cent of our workforce — and until this legislation was introduced, they had few legal protections in their workplace. One in five agricultural workers in Alberta work at worksites with more than 20 employees.Read more
“The inclusion of agricultural workers in Alberta’s workplace laws is a victory for all workers”Read more
Despite years of promises, agricultural workers still excluded from provincial health and safety legislationRead more
Despite promises of reform, province’s agricultural workers are excluded from employment standards
Calgary - As agricultural workers mark the province’s tenth annual Farm Workers Day, Alberta remains the only place in Canada that excludes them from employment standards, health and safety and the right to unionize.
On Wednesday, August 20, at an event at the Bridgeland Riverside Community Centre (917 Centre Ave. NE, Calgary AB) the Alberta Federation of Labour joined representatives of other concerned organizations in calling for the immediate inclusion of agricultural workers in Alberta’s workplace standards.
“The people who work in Alberta’s vibrant agricultural sector deserve the same protections as any other Albertans,” AFL secretary treasurer Siobhan Vipond said. “It’s an antiquated exception from the rules that doesn’t make sense in the 21st century. This doesn’t happen anywhere else in Canada – or in most G7 nations. We’re completely alone in this unfair, unjust and callous disregard of the wellbeing of agricultural workers.”
More than 50,000 Albertans work in the agricultural sector. They account for 2.6 per cent of our workforce — and yet have few legal protections in their workplace. One in five agricultural workers in Alberta work at worksites with more than 20 employees.
“When these workers were excluded in the law, it was 1943, and farming was mostly done on family farms,” Vipond said. “But it’s been 70 years, and farming has changed. It is now dominated by huge corporations operating massive hog barns, corporate farms and mushroom factories, employing hundreds of workers. It’s time the law reflected reality, and protected these workers.”
Agricultural workers are exempt for most of the basic employment protections all other Albertans take for granted which makes them very vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. These workers have:
- No basic employment protections, such as minimum wage, limits on hours of work, rest breaks, overtime or statutory holiday pay;
- No health and safety protection ;
- No WCB when they get injured; and
- No right to unionize.
“Too many injuries and tragedies happen on Alberta’s farms. Too many of those could be prevented. There have been promises from the government, but no action on this issue,” Vipond said. “The exclusion of agricultural workers from the most basic workplace protections is a travesty, and one that Premier Hancock could rectify with the stroke of a pen.”
The annual Alberta Farm Workers Day commemorates the death of agricultural worker Terry Rash, who lost his life at the hands of his employer on August 20, 1999. Each year since 2005, Albertans commemorate Rash’s death, as well as the many other agricultural workers who have lost their lives as a result of work-related illness or injury.-30-
Olav Rokne, Communications Director, Alberta Federation of Labour at 780.218.4351 (cell)
or via e-mail email@example.com
Jobs Minister floats suggestion to increase scope of jobs that 12-year-olds can be hired into
Edmonton – Alberta's largest worker organization is asking the province to take the expansion of child labour off the table.
Today is the deadline for submissions to the review of the Employment Standards Code launched in March by Jobs Minister Thomas Lukaszuk. The first question that the government asks in its discussion guide for the review has to do with expanding the variety of jobs that 12-14 year olds are permitted to do.
In their written submission to the review, the Alberta Federation of Labour expressed strong opposition to any such expansion.
"Albertans don't want 12-year-olds working in restaurant kitchens. They don't want 13-year-olds working as janitors and handling hazardous cleaning materials," Alberta Federation of Labour president McGowan said. "The fact that this is the first item on Mr. Lukaszuk's Employment Standards agenda shows that he did not hear Albertans the last time his PC government expanded child labour. Albertans rejected it then, and they reject it now."
McGowan added that this "is a very odd way for Lukaszuk to launch a bid for the PC leadership."
"Instead of distancing himself from the bad policy that has characterized the government over the past few years, the Minister seems to be determined to make even more bad policy before he resigns to pursue his leadership aspirations. I guess we'll have to start referring to him as the 'child labour' candidate."
The AFL recommendations on Employment Standards are contained in a detailed analysis of provincial work standards. The Executive Summary is here and the full report is here. The recommendations fall in eight categories:
1) End special permits issued by the Director of Employment Standards. There should be one set of rules for every employer, not exceptions for friends and insiders.
2) End the discrimination against workers with disabilities, farm workers, and domestic workers, and include them in basic Employment Standards protections.
3) Get tough on employers who abuse Temporary Foreign Workers, and make sure employers aren't using the TFW Program to drive down wages and working conditions and displace Albertans from jobs
4) Enforce the rules and get tough on employers that try to cheat the system. Recommendations here are tougher fines, more prosecutions, and on-the-spot administrative penalties (ticketing) for employers who break the rules.
5) Fairness for people who work in the restaurant, retail, and hospitality industries by ending illegal deductions, having a clear law on tips, and ending the two-tier minimum wage.
6) Ending the confusion around stat pay and overtime – clean up the language in the legislation and make our laws consistent with the rest of the country.
7) End – don't expand – child labour in Alberta.
8) Recognize we are all juggling work and family by bringing our parental and maternity leave standards up to the standards in the rest of Canada and expanding the number of leaves employees can take without losing job protection.
Olav Rokne, Communications Director, Alberta Federation of Labour at 780.289.6528 (cell)
or via e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Federation of Labour Reminds Premier of Her Promise to Improve Farm Safety Regulations
Edmonton – Farm workers deserve straight answers as to why Alison Redford has not fulfilled her promise of workplace rights for agricultural workers.
In a letter to the Premier on Aug. 20, the Alberta Federation of Labour reminded Redford of promises that she made during the 2011 Progressive Conservative leadership race. During the race, Redford told the Calgary Herald editorial board: “We have to have farm workers protected. Hired employees on farms are entitled to that protection.”
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.
Provincial Occupational Health and Safety Regulations specifically omit agricultural worksites.
“It’s been two years and we’ve seen little movement to fulfill this commitment,” Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan wrote in the letter. “Of course, politicians are allowed to change their minds when new facts come to light or circumstances change. But citizens deserve an explanation.”
The Government of Alberta also continues to ignore the advice of one of its own judges. A judicial inquiry into the death of farm worker Kevin Chandler found Alberta’s discriminatory practice against farm workers unjustifiable.
Judge Peter Barley, the Provincial Court Judge assigned to the Inquiry wrote in his report, “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.”
The Alberta Federation of Labour declared August 20 to be Farm Workers Day at the organization’s 2005 Convention, and has been calling on the government to allow farm workers the same protections as most Alberta workers enjoy.
“The people who work in Alberta’s vibrant agricultural sector deserve the same protections as any other Albertans,” McGowan said. “It’s clear from her comments in 2011, that Alison Redford understands this. I would like to know the Premier’s reasoning for not turning her commitment into action.”-30-
Olav Rokne, Communications Director, Alberta Federation of Labour at 780.289.6528 (cell)
or via e-mail email@example.com
Seeds of reform fail to germinate when report omits update to Occupational Health and Safety Act
Edmonton – Workers in Alberta's agriculture sector deserve better says the Alberta Federation of Labour.
The Alberta Farm Safety Advisory (AFSA) Council report, which was released by the government this week, failed to recommend the inclusion of farm workers in Alberta's Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA). Farm workers are the only workers in Alberta who are excluded from the Act.
“Alison Redford promised change to Alberta's agricultural workers, but she's letting those promises go fallow.” Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan said. “More than 300 farm workers are seriously injured every year. Seventeen die each year. The results of this report will do little to change that.”
The AFSA Council had representatives from industry and government, but only one labour representative. Recommendations included:
Strategic, Province-wide Coordination and Awareness; Enhanced Educational Resources, Training and Certification; Farm-Related Policies and Guidelines; and Strengthening the agriculture workers component of the current Temporary Foreign Worker Advisory Office.
“Many farms in Alberta are already well run. These are the kinds of farms that will follow all the new guidelines, and all the new policies that come out of this report,” McGowan said. “The problem is that there are farms where you see the appalling labour practices. Those are the ones that won't improve their behaviour unless there is regulatory change.”
The report, which began almost two years ago, has been complete for more than a year, but the Alberta Government had been sitting on it. It was only made public on Tuesday. During the lead-up to her selection as Premier, Alison Redford promised to provide OHSA protection for farm workers.
“Alberta's agricultural workers deserve the same protections, same health and safety regulation that every other Albertan enjoys,” McGowan said. “Until the government acts, there will continue to be too many workplace accidents on Alberta's farms and agricultural operations.”-30-
Gil McGowan, President, Alberta Federation of Labour at 780-218-9888 (cell)
Olav Rokne, AFL Communications Director at 780-289-6528 (cell) or via email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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