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Thursday, 30 August 2012 11:10

Officials want to see legislated rights for farm workers

Written by  Stephanie Labbe
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David Eggen and Shannon Phillips share similar views on farm workers and the fact they need protection in case of injury or death on the job. They spoke Aug. 20 about Farm Workers Day and were calling on the government to take action. David Eggen and Shannon Phillips share similar views on farm workers and the fact they need protection in case of injury or death on the job. They spoke Aug. 20 about Farm Workers Day and were calling on the government to take action. Photo by Stephanie Labbe

Farmworkers Day has been occurring every year on Aug. 20 for almost the past 12 years and still nothing has been done to protect farm workers on the job, say its proponents.

Shannon Phillips the policy analyst for Alberta Federation of Labour and David Eggen the NDP agriculture critic were in Lethbridge Aug. 20 to provide information on Alberta Premier Alison Redford’s broken promises. They also commented on the Alberta government’s decision to stop gathering information on statistics on farm workers.
Eggen and Phillips agree the province of Alberta is far behind the rest of Canada in regards to farm workers’ safety and feel something needs to be done. They both state  farm workers are getting injured and killed on the job and aren’t receiving workers’ compensation, because they are considered seasonal workers according to the government.
“Every year we call on the government to increase the standards by which farm workers can be protected under provincial law. Currently in the province of Alberta, farm workers are not entitled to basic compensation rights, such as a wage level, such as vacation pay or workers’ compensation if they are injured,” said Eggen.
Eggen and Phillips stated Alberta is currently the only jurisdiction that doesn’t have any form of protection for farm workers. A recent news release states in the years prior to 2011, Alberta has recorded 160 deaths related to farm work.
“We find that the excuse that the successive Conservative governments have put out that some how OH&S would be intruding on the family farm — we find that excuse to be just that and also something of a red herring. The fact is, is that the large amount of agriculture production in this province is done in large commercial facilities where people are in workplaces like any other workplace and deserve the same protections like any other workplace,” stated Phillips.
Eggen and Phillips find it sad the government has done nothing in the past 12 years when people have been trying to get some sort of protection for farm workers. They partnered on this issue to help educate the public. 
“Premier Redford, during her leadership campaign and this election campaign promised that she would look after farm workers and instead the page has gone dark, because we now don’t even have the statistics that we can use to measure whether fatalities, injuries and so forth are happening to farm workers in Alberta,” said Eggen.
He added at least half, if not more, of the provinces in Canada have some sort of protection for farm workers. They are treated as equals when it comes to work in other provinces.
Phillips said they are calling on the Redford government to also implement recommendations of one of its own judges who did a judicial review of farm workers deaths a few years ago. The review recommended Alberta extend its employment standards and health and safety protections to farm workers.
National Farmworkers Day was started by the National Farmers Union and other labour advocacy groups to inform the public and push for full compensation for farm workers.
“We’re frustrated with the lack of progress to extend basic workers rights to farm workers in this province,” said Eggen.
“We first must recognize the importance of the agriculture industry in our province and who actually executes the function of that industry, which is the workers who put their hands to the wheel, so to speak. Second of all it’s important to recognize just how there’s almost two levels of rights in this province. One’s for every other worker and then this lower level for farm workers,” said Eggen. “It’s embarrassing that the Redford government still refuses to recognize their rights as equal rights in this province.”
Eggen and Phillips are tired of the government making excuses for reasons why farm workers don’t have the right to compensation in the result of an injury on the job.
“The excuses that they’re seasonal workers or that the industry can’t afford it just don’t make any sense. Large corporate farms should be paying this now and we should recognize the special circumstance of individual family operators and compensate them for premiums that would cover their workers in the event of accident,” stated Eggen.
He added the government always makes promises in their campaigns. He wants the Redford government to step up and do as they promised instead of ignoring the issue.
“Premier Redford ran on changing law and policy on farm workers and she’s just achieved quite the opposite with this blackout of information around farm workers. You must judge a government on their actions, not by what they say and Redford is saying that she doesn’t care about this issue by her actions,” stated Eggen.

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