Alberta remains the only province in Canada that does not have compulsory workers’ compensation coverage for farm workers.
Most farm workers in Alberta have no coverage at all, says a report by the Parkland Institute of the Faculty of Arts at the University of Alberta. It states that politics may be one thing barring farm workers from the provincial workers’ compensation system.
The 75-page report called A dirt business: The exclusion of Alberta farm workers from injury compensation, states that working on a farm can sometimes bring hazardous conditions and yet workers must fend for themselves.
Athabasca University associate professor of labour relations Bob Barnetson says in the report that, “there is absolutely no justifiable reason for the ongoing exclusion of farm workers in Alberta from workers’ compensation coverage.”
Since farm workers are not covered by default, they have several options, says Brookes Merritt, spokesperson for Occupational, Health and Safety (OHS).
Those options include having the farm operation voluntarily pay for workers’ compensation and extending that coverage to workers, get private insurance or farm workers can negotiate insurance with their employer.
“The reason is very traditional in Alberta. Farms and ranches are a very unique industry,” said Merritt.
Because of the exclusion, OHS has no jurisdiction on a farm. The agency normally investigates workplace fatalities but if it happens on the farm, they don’t. Merritt says the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, OHS and farm and ranch stakeholders have discussed the issue and they work together to try and have common safety standards.
The report points out that small “ma and pa” farms have decreased over the years but farm operations have increased in size and employment. “In 2011, an average farm was 1,168 acres in size – about the size of 1,000 football fields.”
Making compensation mandatory for farm workers would be a political decision, explained Merritt. OHS’s role is to ensure the policies are followed.
Parkland Institute recommends four strategies to increase interest for those seeking basic farm workers compensation:
• Farm workers could sue employers for work-related injuries;
• Challenge the constitutionality of the farm worker exclusion;
• Farm workers can publicize work conditions through social media;
• Exert political pressure by highlighting that farm workers have worse access to compensation coverage than international migrant workers;
The report also questions why MLAs are in favour of giving Alberta firefighters access to workers’ compensation and they don’t support the same access for farm workers.