The AFL joined with Action on Smoking and Health, Alberta Cancer Board and the Alberta Chamber of Commerce today to launch a campaign to urge the Alberta government to implement a province-wide smoking ban in all workplaces.
"For us smoking in the workplace is an occupational health and safety issue," says AFL President Gil McGowan. "Forcing workers in restaurants, bars and casinos to be exposed to high levels of second-hand smoke runs counter to basic health and safety practice."
"Tobacco smoke contains over 50 known carcinogens, including benzene, formaldehyde, cadmium and lead," observes McGowan. "If workers in bars were being exposed to coal dust at the levels they inhale second-hand smoke, the government would have put a stop to it. Had bingo workers been exposed to asbestos at these levels, the government would have cracked down."
"They need to act now to eliminate exposure to tobacco smoke."
McGowan points out that food and beverage workers have three to six times more exposure to second hand smoke than other workers. As a result, non-smoking workers in the food service industry have a 50% greater risk of cancer than other non-smokers. "This is why we must act," urges McGowan.
"We will be mobilizing our members to contact their MLA in the next few weeks demanding a province-wide smoking ban," says McGowan. "We are one of only two provinces without one. Let's hope we don't end up being the last province without a complete ban."
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For More Info
Gil McGowan, 218-9888
White Powder Makes Hypocrites of Both Tories and Grits: Canada Undermines Attempt to Restrict Use of Asbestos
Banning asbestos is a no brainer, right? The versatile, indestructible insulation and construction material was the "miracle substance" of the early 20th century and is now infamous as a cancerous scourge. Most people know asbestos, with its tiny indestructible fibres, is a carcinogen. It is rigidly controlled in Alberta workplaces, and has been virtually removed as a construction building block in Canada. But someone seems to have forgotten to tell the Canadian government.
At an international conference last month, the Canadian government led a charge to prevent chrysotile asbestos from being added to a list of controlled dangerous substances. Chrysotile (or white) asbestos is the most common form of the fibre.
The conference where Canada played such a nefarious role was the most recent gathering of the Rotterdam Convention, an international environmental treaty signed by over 110 countries to regulate the trade and use of certain hazardous substances, such as pesticides and other toxic industrial chemicals.
The purpose of the Rotterdam Convention is quite modest. Passed in 1998, its job is to "promote shared responsibility and cooperative efforts" among nations in the area of hazardous chemicals and to "contribute to the environmentally sound use of those hazardous chemicals." It doesn't ban anything; it simply sets up rules to ensure buyers of certain chemicals are aware of the dangers associated with it. It is about the right-to-know.
Apparently even this is too much for Canada. In response to a motion to add white asbestos to the list of restricted substances requiring information-sharing, Canada cried foul. It led a campaign to defeat the motion. Because Rotterdam requires consensus among signing parties to enact a motion, Canada's effort was successful, despite only garnering the support of five other nations - Kyrgyzstan, Iran, Peru, India and Ukraine. The motion was deferred to a future conference. And white asbestos continues to cross borders without control.
Before you trot out your curses of Stephen Harper and his band of terrible Tories, take note that this was the third time Canada has deep-sixed a motion to add white asbestos to the controlled list. The last two times occurred under Liberal governments in 2002 and 2004. In fact, the Liberal government launched a WTO challenge against France in 1997 after it passed a law banning asbestos within its borders.
But if asbestos is so awful - and it is - why is the Canadian government so intent to defend its continued trade? After all, we rarely use the stuff ourselves these days.
The answer lies in the narrow self-interest of a dying, regionally concentrated industry. Canada still mines asbestos - about 250 000 tonnes of the stuff a year. The vast majority of it comes out of three mines in Quebec's Eastern Townships. The Canadian government estimates it is worth about $200 million in trade a year. The industry employs about 1 600 workers in Quebec. Canada holds the dubious honour of being the world's largest exporter of asbestos.
The appalling part is that 96 per cent of what we produce is exported to developing regions such as Africa and SouthEast Asia. We refuse to use asbestos in our own homes and workplaces but happily ship it abroad to countries with lax safety and environmental standards, putting workers and citizens in those countries at risk of cancer and other asbestos-related diseases. In my eyes, this makes us hypocrites.
More than 30 countries have banned asbestos completely, including most of the EU nations. Why? Because they know that over one million people contract asbestos-related disease each year. They know that asbestosis and mesothelioma are among the more painful and vicious cancers. They know that there is no safe way to handle asbestos. And they know there are plenty of safer alternatives available.
What they know is something our government refuses to recognize, namely that asbestos needs to disappear from human activity. We don't need it, and we definitely can't afford to keep using it.
But our government continues to be a pariah on the world stage for its defence of asbestos. It does so because it knows it will pay no political price at home. Who knows about the Rotterdam Convention? Who follows the actions of diplomats at some conference in Europe? Who cares that our hands are coated in a deadly white powder?
They do it because the corporate interests defending asbestos speak louder than Canadian citizens who care about protecting health and environment.
It's not enough to shake our heads and wag our fingers at Tory and Liberal politicians - although that is a good start. We all share in the shame that is our track record on asbestos.
Canadians should be embarrassed and offended by the position our government has taken. But we should also be ashamed we have not spoken more vociferously for an end to such indefensible actions. We should realize we are remiss for not demanding a domestic ban on asbestos in Canada.
I am angry at successive Conservative and Liberal governments for condemning thousands of workers to painful deaths at the hands of Canadian-produced asbestos. And I am hopeful that Canadians will soon awake to this hypocrisy and demand a more ethical approach to this crucial issue.
by Jason Foster
At its October meeting, the Executive Council of the Alberta Federation of Labour approved a new Policy Statement on Workplace Drug and Alcohol Testing that clarifies labour's position on the issue and takes into consideration recent court decisions which have shifted the ground on mandatory testing.
AFL President Gil McGowan indicates the AFL's last policy was passed in 2001. "It was time for an update. We kept our core principles opposing mandatory drug testing, but added in a more detailed analysis of the legal status of testing.
"In short, the policy clearly opposes all forms of employer-imposed drug and alcohol testing," says McGowan. "It does so for two reasons. First, it is an unreasonable invasion of workers' privacy and in many cases contravenes the human rights code."
"Second, quite frankly drug and alcohol testing doesn't work. It does not make workplaces safer," says McGowan. He notes the Alberta government's own research shows that testing cannot be shown to reduce work-related injuries.
"Our belief is that employers are using drug testing as a method of exerting control over their workforce, not to make workplaces safer."
The Policy offers information and alternatives to workers and unions who are facing employers trying to impose mandatory testing. "Our policy statement is urging our affiliate unions to push back against employers trying to implement invasive and possibly illegal testing programs."
Recent court decisions, such as Chiasson and Jacknife/Collins, have further restricted what testing programs are allowed under law. "We intend on informing our members fully of what employers can and cannot do legally. And rest assured, if an employer tries to implement something of dubious legality, our affiliates will fight hard against it," observes McGowan.
Specifically, the policy also opposes the use of pre-employment testing, random testing and post-incident testing. It also puts the AFL on record opposing the so-called "Canadian Model" which is widespread in the construction industry.
Finally, the policy offers practical alternatives to testing which are shown to be more effective at making workplaces safer without contravening workers' rights.
"We know the issue of drug testing is huge issue that is not going away. We want to make sure workers are fully informed of their rights, and fully prepared to defend themselves," McGowan concludes.
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For more Information:
Gil McGowan, President Tel: (780) 483-3021 Cell: (780) 218-9888
Jason Foster, Director of Policy Analysis Tel: (780) 483-3021
Human Resources and Employment Minister Mike Cardinal has subverted a longstanding agreement with the labour movement by appointing an individual with no connection to labour to the WCB Board to represent workers, says the Alberta Federation of Labour. The AFL has sent a letter to Cardinal demanding an explanation and that the appointment be suspended.
On September 13, Cabinet quietly appointed Richard Mirasty to the WCB Board of Directors to represent the interests of workers. Mr. Mirasty is a lawyer and professor in the University of Alberta's Law Faculty. The WCB Board consists of 9 members, three each representing the interests of employers, labour and the public.
"This is the first time in history, to our knowledge, that a non-labour person has been appointed to represent workers at the WCB," says AFL President Gil McGowan. "It is an unnecessary antagonism of the labour movement.
"It undermines a longstanding protocol with labour in two ways," McGowan notes. "First, we have always been consulted about labour appointments and given the opportunity to put forward nominees. Second, the appointees always have some connection with the labour movement, either as an elected officer or staff representative or other position.
"None of that happened this time. Cardinal made this appointment in secret and by ignoring the traditional process - which has worked very well over the years."
McGowan notes that his concern is not with the abilities of the individual in question. "I do not know Mr. Mirasty. He is probably a very capable person. The problem is that I - and no one else in the labour movement - has any clue who he is.
"We would have no difficulties if Mr. Mirasty was appointed to represent the interests of the public. Our concern is that he has no connection to the labour movement."
The AFL has sent a letter to Minister Cardinal demanding an explanation for his decision to subvert the traditional process. The letter also requests that Mirasty's appointment be suspended until such time as a vacancy occurs amongst public members, and that an appropriate labour representative be selected in the meantime.
"We are worried this sets a very ugly precedent," McGowan concludes. "What's next? Appointing the CEO of Wal-Mart to represent the interests of workers?"
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For More Information:
Gil McGowan, AFL President Tel: (780) 483-3021 Cell: (780) 218-9888
The death of Kevan Chandler in a farm accident near Black Diamond, Alberta that left his wife, Lorna, and two young children in dire financial straits tragically illustrates the need for immediate government action to protect farmworkers.
"It is unforgivable for the Alberta government to continue to exclude farmworkers from basic employment standards and occupational health and safety (OH&S) regulations in the light of this tragedy," says AFL President Gil McGowan. "We need occupational health and safety regulations for farmworkers and mandatory WCB coverage for farmworkers," says McGowan. "The first may have prevented this tragedy and the second would have at least ensured that the widow and her children were financially secure."
Other provinces, like Ontario and Manitoba are already moving to correct this fundamental injustice with Ontario already covering farmworkers under health & safety regulations and Manitoba moving to include farmworkers under employment standards legislation. "It is past time for Alberta to stop treating farmworkers like second class citizens," says McGowan, "and to bring its legislation into the 21st century."
"August 20th is National Farmworkers Day," (click here for more on Farmworker Day) notes McGowan. "We don't want to be marking it every year with another memorial for farmworkers killed on the job. It's time for this government to act."
In an effort to provide some immediate assistance for Lorna Chandler and her two young children, the Alberta Federation of Labour has raised $3000 for her which will be presented at a fund-raiser in Turner Valley organized by the Farmworkers Union of Alberta on Sunday, August 20th at 12:00 noon.
Further support will be considered at the next AFL Executive Council meeting scheduled for October, 2006.
For more information on the AFL's End the Drought campaign for farmworkers, click here.
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For more information contact:
Gil McGowan, AFL President @ 780-218-9888 (cell)
EDMONTON-Nine months into new rules allowing restaurants to hire 12 and 13 year olds it is clear they are failing to protect young workers says the Alberta Federation of Labour today. The AFL released the list of employers who have submitted the paperwork allowing them to employ adolescents. The AFL also announced its intent to post the entire list on its website (see the list here) and update it regularly. The AFL received copies of the forms through a FOIP request.
Between July 1, 2005 and March 31, 2006, the first nine months of the new rules for hiring children, only 160 forms were submitted the required paperwork to the government. This is a fraction of the number of applications the government received before the new rules. According to government figures, 552 permits to hire kids under 14 were granted in 2004, and 359 permits in the first four months of 2005.
"The only explanation for the stunning drop in the number of forms is that employers are not sending in the legally-required paperwork," says AFL President Gil McGowan. "They are taking advantage of the lax nature of the new rules."
"Albertans should be deeply troubled by this development. The government no longer has any idea where most of the 12 year olds are working. If they don't know where they are, they can't protect them. This leaves these young kids vulnerable to unsafe work and to being ripped off."
The list of employers who have submitted forms reveals much about who is hiring adolescent workers. "It is big, fast food chains, for the most part," says McGowan. "The restaurant industry claimed it would be mostly mom-and-pop shops. That hasn't been the case."
One employer alone accounts for over 70 submitted forms. Max Pasley Enterprises, owners of dozens of McDonald�s restaurants in Alberta submitted dozens of forms in a three month period. Max Pasley is listed as one of the 50 largest employers in Alberta, employing more than 3,000 workers.
Before July 2005, employers were required to apply for special permission to hire anyone under the age of 14. Under the new rules, they do not require prior approval, but must still submit a Safety Checklist which demonstrates they received parental consent and have taken other precautions to protect the young worker.
"No one can make me believe the demand for hiring kids under the age of 14 has suddenly disappeared," adds McGowan. "Nine months ago, the government was saying that requests for permits was growing at about 20% per year. Employers have decided the government is irrelevant - and that is bad news for the kids working in restaurants."
The AFL also announced it is publicly posting the list of employers on its website. It will update the list as it receives new information. "Albertans have a right to know which employers are hiring 12-year olds to work in their restaurants," says McGowan. "As consumers the knowledge will help them decide how they wish to spend their money."
The AFL makes no comments about whether the employers who submit forms are safe and fair workplaces. "We have no information about the working conditions at these workplaces. We are simply providing the information to the public and letting them decide for themselves," notes McGowan.
The AFL also renewed its call to scrap the new rules for young workers. "The move to allow 12 and 13 year-olds to work in restaurants is a disaster. The government needs to admit its error and return to the old rules, which did a better job protecting children."
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For more information call:
Gil McGowan, AFL President @ (780) 915-4599 (cell)
EDMONTON-The Alberta Federation of Labour today blamed government inaction on health and safety enforcement for the rising number of workplace fatalities in Alberta. The AFL made the observation on the 11th International Day of Mourning to remember workers killed because of work. The Day of Mourning was marked across the province in hundreds of workplace and community ceremonies.
"It's the dark side of the boom," says AFL President Gil McGowan. "More Alberta workers were killed in 2005 than in any other year in the past quarter century. We may be booming, but the price of that boom is being paid in the lives of workers."
"Employers are busy trying to keep up with demand, and to do so, they are cutting corners. Unfortunately one of the first corners cut is safety - with an end result of growing numbers of accidents and deaths."
McGowan firmly placed the blame on government inaction. "The government's job is to make sure employers obey the safety laws, but they are doing nothing to make workplaces safer. In fact, they are denying there is a problem at all."
McGowan points out that the government continues to claim workplaces are getting safer, despite growing evidence that things are more dangerous. Some of the mounting evidence includes:
- A 2005 CIHI study found Alberta has the highest rate of work-related acute trauma cases in the country (CIHI, April 2005).
- Alberta's 2004 fatality rate per capita was the third highest in Canada, behind only Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. (National data for 2005 is not yet available)
- Alberta had almost 170,000 officially recorded workplace accidents in 2005, up 9.3% from 2004. This is almost 500 a day.
- The WCB's 2005 Total Disabling Injury Rate (a more accurate measure of safety than the so-called Lost Time Claims rate or LTC) is up 5.4% from 2004 (It is currently 4.28 per 100 workers).
"Government claims that workplaces are safer today are contradicted by all the evidence," says McGowan. "When the government does acknowledge there is a problem, they blame workers for carelessness and 'stupidity.' This does nothing to address the real causes of injuries."
McGowan points to a series of government print ads that show unsafe work with the large label "stupid". "The government ads are a case of blaming the victim. Workers need to work safely, but employers hold the primary responsibility for making workplaces safe. And the government's job is to make sure employers obey the law."
Day of Mourning was recognized by the Canadian Parliament in 1991. It is now commemorated in more than 80 countries worldwide. McGowan will be speaking to the Edmonton ceremony, tonight at 7:00 pm at Edmonton City Hall.
The AFL maintains a tally of all workers killed since 1905, which can be found at www.afl.org.
NOTE: AFL President Gil McGowan is available throughout the day for interviews.
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For more information call:
Gil McGowan, AFL President @ (780)483-3021(office) (780)915-4599(cell)
Every year Albertans, along with hundreds of thousands of people around the world, mark April 28 as the International Day of Mourning. It is a day to remember the needless loss of life at work and to reflect on what we can do to prevent such tragedies.
It is important to take time to stop and remember. But for those of us who have worked on occupational health and safety for many years, April 28 has also become a day of great frustration.
Things are not getting better. In fact they are getting worse. We aren't learning any lessons from the loss of life.
Signs of Alberta's latest economic boom are everywhere - new construction, industry expansion, job openings popping up like dandelions. But with the boom we also see an increase in injuries and deaths. The Workers' Compensation Board (WCB) reports that last year there were 170,000 recorded accidents in Alberta - a rate of almost 500 per day.
In this boom employers are scrambling just to keep up with the demand. Focus is on getting the work done. Unfortunately, safety is one of the first corners cut. Far too often I hear the excuse "there isn't enough time to do things safely".
Cutting corners during a boom is one problem. The other is when the boom ends. In tougher times, companies tighten their belt, and safety is one of the first budget items cut. Safety is deemed too expensive.
It makes one ask, when is the right time to make safety a priority?
The picture is even worse than official records indicate. Cancer caused by workplace exposure to cancer-causing substances like asbestos, benzene or carbon affects thousands of workers - and their suffering is not recorded by the WCB or the provincial government.
According to WCB statistics, the WCB accepted 29 new claims for work-related cancer and recognized 38 fatalities due to occupational cancer in 2005.
However, the Alberta Cancer Board estimates that 8% of all cancers in Alberta are work-related. This means over 1,000 new cases of work-related cancer are diagnosed and more than 400 workers die of occupational cancer each year.
Fewer than one in ten occupational cancer fatalities are recognized by the WCB. I consider this a moral outrage.
What about the government? Isn't it their job to protect worker safety? You may have seen the government's ads with pictures of workers doing unsafe things with the word "stupid" in big print. The government's response to the rash of workplace injuries is to call workers "stupid".
The government's main job is to enforce the Health and Safety Act, which lays out rules every employer and worker are supposed to obey. Except that there are fewer than 90 enforcement officers to inspect more than 150,000 workplaces in Alberta. There is no way a handful of officers can keep an eye on even a small fraction of Alberta workplaces. As a result, enforcement is virtually non-existent.
The government refuses to publish the names of employers with the worst safety records so workers can protect themselves. They refuse to prosecute any but the most serious infractions.
The end result? The number of deaths keeps climbing.
We have created a system designed to save money rather than save lives.
The incentives in the system are cost-based, rather than safety-based. Employers earn WCB premium reductions for reducing the amount of time workers lose at work due to accidents. Employers can minimize disruptions to productivity through modified work and case management.
In both cases, an employer can save significant money without actually making their workplace any safer. Implement an aggressive modified work program - which gives injured workers alternative work to perform - and watch your WCB costs drop. However, you can achieve the goal without a single accident being prevented.
Government regulations are quite detailed at protecting workers from falls or collisions. But the lack of enforcement undermines their effectiveness. And the regulations are virtually silent in protecting workers from exposure to chemicals that will lead to cancer down the road.
Workers have an important role in working safely. They need to work safe, and watch out for co-workers. But there is only so much a worker can do to prevent accidents. Workers don't have the power to lower fugitive benzene emissions, or reduce their exposure to damaging noise or other hazards. That power rests with employers and the government.
And employers and the government simply aren't prepared to take the bold steps necessary to bring a halt to workplace death. As a consequence, every year we are forced to remember increasing numbers of workers killed because of work. And every year we fail to learn the lesson of 143 workers dying needlessly because we put our priority on profit rather than people's lives.
Time to heed the lesson. Time to get serious about stopping the scourge of workplace death.
Jason Foster, AFL Executive Staff
At "End the Drought!" Campaign Launch
Calgary, August 20, 2005
Good morning. My name is Gil McGowan and I'm president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
For those who are not familiar with our federation, we are the umbrella group representing unions in the province.
More specifically, we represent 29 unions in both the public and private sectors, who, in turn, represent about 120,000 Alberta workers.
But this morning, we're not here to talk about our members. We're not here to talk about those who are already represented.
Instead, we're here to talk about a forgotten group of workers.
We're here to talk about a group of people who are at the heart of our province's traditional economy, but who have been abandoned on the margins of our legal system.
The group that I'm talking about, of course, is farm workers.
In an effort to bring Alberta farm workers 'in from the margins' the AFL has decided to designate August 20th as Farmer Workers Day. This will be the first of what we hope will become an annual event.
We're also here to launch a lobbying campaign aimed at shining a public spotlight on the problems faced by farm workers in Alberta.
In particular, it is our intention to educate members of the Legislative Assembly and convince them to update the workplace laws governing farm workers so that they better reflect the realities we face in the 21st century.
In many ways farm workers have been enduring a drought when it comes to legal protections; that's why we're calling the plan we're unveiling today the 'End the Drought' campaign.
To help me launch this campaign this morning, we've invited two special guests.
To my left, we have Eric Musekamp. Eric is President of the Farmworkers Union of Alberta, or FUA for short.
For several years now, Eric has been a lonely voice trying to draw attention to the plight of farm workers. With this event today, we are signaling that Eric will no longer be alone in his work: the broader labour movement is also taking up the cause.
Our other special guest is Stan Raper. Stan is the Agriculture Worker Coordinator for the United Food and Commercial Workers union. UFCW has taken the lead among unions in organizing farm workers in Canada, and Stan has been the man directing most of that important work.
As far as the agenda for this morning goes, we'll break our presentation into four main sections.
First, I will outline the nature of the problem facing farm workers in Alberta, and I will talk about what our Federation plans to do about it.
Second, Eric will talk about what it's like to actually be a farm worker here in Alberta in 2005, and why, from his perspective, legal changes are so desperately needed.
Third, Stan will provide us with a national perspective on the issue of workplace protections for farm workers. In particular, he'll tell us about some of the progress that's been made in other provinces; progress which highlights just how much ground farm workers here in Alberta still have to make up.
Fourth, and finally, we'll open the floor for questions, and afterwards, we'll all make ourselves available for one-on-one interviews.
So who are we talking about when we talk about farm workers and just how bad are things for them?
As it stands right now, there are about 12,000 people working as farm or agricultural employees in Alberta.
About 25 percent of these people work on a temporary or seasonal basis. And about 300 are classified as foreign or migrant labourers.
But the rest - the vast majority - are full-time, permanent workers who make their homes in our communities.
Some of them work in nurseries and market gardens. Some of them work in mushroom farms or greenhouses.
But the majority work in animal production. You'll find them working on ranches, in huge hog barns and on sprawling feed lots around the province.
When it comes to the challenges these workers face, it can be boiled down simply.
The problem in a nutshell is that farm workers in our province are excluded from almost all of the legal, workplace protections that other Albertans take for granted.
Other workers are covered and protected by laws like the Employment Standards Code, the Occupational Health and Safety Act, the Workers' Compensation Act and the Labour Code.
These laws provide the basic legal framework of protections that most working Albertans take for granted. They guarantee rights and provide a safety net.
But farm workers here in Alberta fall outside that legal framework. They have no safety net.
More specifically, farm workers are either fully or partially excluded from all of the laws I've mentioned and denied the protections that those laws provide.
As a result, if you're a farm worker in Alberta today you work in an extremely insecure environment.
You're excluded from most provisions of the Employment Standards Code - so you have no protection when it comes to things like hours of work. You're not guaranteed a minimum wage. You're not entitled to overtime. You don't get statutory holidays or vacation pay.
If you're a farm worker in Alberta, you're also excluded from the Occupational Health and Safety Act and the Workers Compensation Act. So you don't have the right to refuse unsafe work and, in most cases, you're not entitled to compensation if you're injured on the job.
If you're a farm worker in Alberta, you're also excluded from the Labour Code. So you don't have the right to join a union. You don't have the right of association that's guaranteed in the Charter of Rights and which is, or will soon be, available to farm workers in every other province.
As a result of all these exclusions, Alberta is once again, at the back of the pack when compared to other provinces. Farm workers here in our province have fewer rights and fewer workplace protections that their counterparts in any other part of the country.
We have fewer employment standards protections for farm workers; we are the last to recognize farm workers right to organize; and we are the only province that has not committed to including farm workers in health and safety legislation.
So, Alberta may be number one in oil, gas and cattle - but we are dead last when it comes to protecting the rights and interests of farm workers.
That's why we're here today. And that's why we're launching our campaign to 'End the Drought' for farm workers.
The work that these workers do is valuable. It's also often hard and dangerous. And we believe they deserve the same kind of legal protections that are available to other Albertans working in other sectors of the economy.
Defenders of the status quo will say that agriculture is a special case. They will say that the rules in place for other workers are not appropriate for farm workers.
A generation or two ago that may have been the case. Back then, that majority of agricultural production in Alberta came from family farms - where the workers were usually the farmers themselves or members of their families.
But today, the small family farm is being pushed aside by agri-business. More and more of our agricultural products are being produced by corporations on factory farms.
Green Acres is being replaced by Hogs-R-Us.
As a result, farm workers are not relatives or friends of the family, they are employees. And the employers are not struggling small farmers, they are profitable corporations.
As employees, we think that farm workers should have the same rights as other employees in the province. As profitable corporations, we think big agricultural employers should have the same obligations to their workers as other employers in the province.
To put it simply, farming in Alberta has changed, and we think the law needs to change to reflect those changes. It's time to end the drought in legal protection for farm workers.
And it's time to end the free ride for agricultural employers.
In terms of the nuts and bolts of our campaign, we've produced a leaflet that we plan to distribute around the province. We're going to be holding town hall meetings in in targeted communities. And we're going to be lobbying the Human Resources Minister and other MLAs.
Our goal is to bring our farm labour laws into the 21st century, and we're going to make it really easy for our politicians.
We're not asking for the moon. All we want is four small amendments to four pieces of Legislation. It's work that the government could accomplish in a day or two if there was a will.
At this point, we remain optimistic. From our perspective the need for these changes is clear. It simply no longer makes any sense to leave farm workers out in the cold.
We hope the government will see basic inequity and injustice here - and we hope they will do the right thing and make sure farm workers are no longer relegated to the status of second class citizens.
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