Agricultural industry shouldn’t receive special benefits

It seems ludicrous that Alberta is a leader in an area of agricultural safety.

It seems ludicrous that Alberta is a leader in an area of agricultural safety.

A leader, not in a positive sense, but in the sense that it’s “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”.

That statement is from a news release issued by the Alberta Federation of Labour on Alberta Farm Workers Day Tuesday.

The organization wrote a letter to Premier Alison Redford to remind her of a promise made during her 2011 Progressive Conservative leadership race where she told the Calgary Herald editorial board, “We have to have farm workers protected. Hired employees on farms are entitled to that protection.”

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, stated the release.

Who can argue with that? Farms today don’t just provide a living for families, they’re big business and sources of employment for many people who aren’t owners.

Also commenting on the need for legislation were the Liberals and New Democrats.

“Agricultural corporations are able to avoid carrying Workers Compensation insurance due to the backward exemptions allowed by the Government of Alberta,” said Liberal Agricultural and Rural Development Critic Dr. David Swann. “Shocking but true — Alberta stands alone in Canada in ignoring Occupational Health and Safety legislation for paid farm workers, Workers Compensation, and child labour standards.

“Large agricultural corporations are not subject to basic health and safety laws, despite being one of Alberta’s most dangerous industries,” he continued. “The costs of any injuries or deaths fall on the public health system and cost Albertans millions of dollars each year. It is time for large agricultural corporations to not only protect their workers, but to pay their fair share when someone is injured working for them.”

This issue has been raised many times in the past. Why has there not been action to remedy the situation, we question.

Rachel Notley, the New Democrat Human Services critic, noted it’s been two years since Redford promised to extend protection to farm workers.

“We can’t trust this government to keep their promises, and we can’t trust them to stand up for ordinary Alberta families,” she said in a news release. “The longer this broken promise premier waits to take action, the more that we endanger farm workers. It’s long past time to take action.”

We couldn’t agree more heartily.

Why should our agricultural industry be singled out for special treatment. We need a level playing field in this province where all businesses and industry alike share the responsibility for workers they employ. And we need all contributing equally to support the programs put in place to protect employees.

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