Farm Workers being 'erased' in Alberta

Alberta's decision to withhold information on farm fatalities is an attempt to move the issue off the public radar, according to the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL), an umbrella union organization representing more than 15,000 workers.

The change was announced "unceremoniously" on a government website, the AFL said.

"The decision to cease reporting fatalities is a painful example of how agricultural workers are being erased in Alberta," said AFL secretary treasurer Nancy Furlong. "It's particularly insulting to the families of those killed on the job to have to call on the government to continue to simply report these incidents."

Alberta is the only province in Canada where farm workers are excluded from occupational health and safety laws, according to the AFL. These workers are also exempt from legislation governing hours of work and overtime, statutory holidays, vacation pay, the right to refuse unsafe work and compensation if they are injured on the job, the organization said.

The AFL finds the change especially troubling in light of a 2008 judicial inquiry into the death of Kevin Chandler, a farm worker killed near High River, Alta., that recommended the inclusion of farm labourers in workplace protection laws.

"It is the government's duty to protect workers, but also to report their deaths and injuries," said Furlong, noting the latest data available from the agency now reporting these statistics, the Canadian Agriculture Injury Reporting, is from 2005.

"Death and injury prevention requires knowledge of the frequency and nature of the incidents," Furlong said.

The province's NDP also criticized the government, calling for legislative changes that would extend health and safety regulations to Alberta's farm workers.

"Frankly, it's disturbing that the lives and livelihoods of Alberta's farm workers mean so little to this government," says NDP agriculture critic David Eggen.

There have been 160 farm-related deaths between 2001 and 2011, the NDP said in a press release.

"This is challenging, dangerous work, and I'm calling on the government today to give farm workers the same rights and protections given to almost all other working Albertans," Eggen said.

The Alberta Liberal Party also spoke out against the issue.

"In Alberta, paid farm workers work without the basic rights and benefits of all other paid employees," said David Swann, the party's agriculture critic. "We must recognize that Albertans are being nourished at the expense of farm workers' health, safety and labour fairness."

There has been an average of 30 farm deaths a year over the last 20 years, Swann said.

Cnd HR Reporter, Thomson Reuters, Tues Aug 21 2012

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