Excluding farm workers from workplace protections a legal minefield -
unsafe work to continue
EDMONTON, Aug. 5 /CNW/ - Reports that the Conservative government is
likely to ignore an Alberta judge's recommendations to include farm
workers in health, safety and employment standards legislation is a step
down a dangerous path, says Gil McGowan, President of the Alberta
Federation of Labour.
"By excluding farm workers from work-related rights and protections, the
government of Alberta is going against the recommendations of one of its
own judges and, clearly, acting unconstitutionally," says McGowan. "This
is a dangerous path to opening themselves up to unnecessary litigation
and more judicial inquiries when serious injuries or deaths inevitably
A judicial inquiry in 2008 saw Alberta judge Peter Barley recommend the
inclusion of farm workers in laws ensuring workplace protections.
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.
A 2006 Ontario court decision forced that province to change its laws,
leaving Alberta the only place in Canada where farm workers are denied
basic workplace protections. The Ontario decision was based on a Charter
challenge which argued that singling out farm workers was discriminatory
The real dangers in excluding farm workers from workplace legislation
lie in the government continuing to allow unsafe and potentially
exploitative working environments to continue. "In the nine years the
Alberta government has said it is 'consulting' on how to improve safety
for agricultural workers, 160 people have died on farm worksites," says
McGowan, adding that thousands of farm-related injuries are reported
"This government likes to pretend that it represents rural Alberta. But
thousands of rural Albertans are working on feedlots and other
commercial agribusiness operations without rules governing their pay,
hours of work, or right to compensation if they're hurt on the job.
That's not representation. It's willful exploitation," adds McGowan.
The government claims that work-related protections, such as employment
standards and occupational health and safety rules, will punish family
farms. That argument is not based on fact. Large agribusiness dominates
the industry. Farms with income over $250,000 accounted for
three-quarters of farm cash receipts in 2007. At the same time, almost
all "family farms" see owners having to work off-farm in order to make a
General farm workers earned an average of $13.13 per hour with a
46.6-hour work week in 2007, significantly below the average Alberta
wage rate of $23.90 per hour.
SOURCE Alberta Federation of Labour
For further information: For further information:
Media Contact: Gil McGowan, President, Alberta Federation of Labour (780) 218-9888