Long Overdue Protection For Farm Workers In Alberta On Its Way

After a shameful wait of many years, the province of Alberta now has cause to celebrate for its farm workers.

Alberta’s NDP announced the introduction of Bill 6 – Increased Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act, which will finally provide recognition and protection for workers in this oftentimes dangerous industry.

Introduced last week by Jobs, Skills, Training and Labour Minister, Lori Sigurdson, this Bill seeks to finally bring Alberta in line with the rest of the provinces in Canada.

Over the last 3 decades, there have been in the neighborhood of 450 farm worker deaths in Alberta.  Statistics show that 24 of those deaths occurred last year alone, a tragedy that is frankly beyond explanation.

For 45 years, the Conservatives had opportunities to save lives and prevent injury and illness in this sector simply by changing laws to protect farm workers.  This did not happen and Alberta remained the lone holdout in advancing protective legislation for these workers.  The political sway of the Conservative party has been felt across the tens of thousands of farms in Alberta, small and large, and this has had a significant impact on the history and evolution on the important life and death matter of farm worker protection.

Though many of these farms are small and family-owned, the landscape is quickly changing regarding the size and scope of agricultural operations in Alberta.  It can be very difficult to determine employment statistics within many of these farms because of the number of family members working on them.  What is clear, however, is that farm workers, family or not, have been excluded from the most basic and critical of rights.  Being excluded from protections and benefits like Workers’ Compensation, the Occupational Health and Safety Code, and even bare-bones labour legislation, means these workers who already work within an inherently dangerous industry are far more likely to be exploited, injured, or become ill in the course of their job.

Important workplace injury, illness, and death numbers are also skewed because farm worker injuries and deaths are excluded in the determination of annual statistics relating to overall workplace health and safety.  With the amount of chemicals, dangerous equipment, and other common dangers associated with farm work, this provides for a significant anomaly in the yearly collection and assessment of data.

Along with seeking consultation from producers, farm workers, industry, and labour, the Alberta NDP is also looking for input from the public, a welcome invitation.  Throughout the coming weeks and months, people can attend public meetings and give their input.  If you are interested in participating in the public consultations, more information can be found here, or you can fill out an online survey before January 3, 2016, at this link as well.

UFCW Local 401 President Douglas O’Halloran applauds this historic move to correct an ongoing injustice. “UFCW across the country has lead the battle for agriculture workers and this long overdue proposed legislation by our new NDP government is most welcome,” said President O’Halloran.  “Seeking input from Albertans across the province is a great start to truly get it right for the thousands of farm workers who deserve and require protections like any other worker in this province,” President O’Halloran concluded.

We will continue to update you on the ongoing developments related to increased protections for farm workers. Please check our website often for news and developments and do not hesitate to contact your local union office if you have any questions.