Friday, 08 February 2013 11:02

Critics say Alta. gov’t needs to wrap up farm safety legislation

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Here, Liberal MLA Dr. David Swann; Lynn Jacobson Wild Rose Agriculture Producers' president; Ron Bonnett, Canadian Federation of Agriculture, and Farmerworkers Union of Alberta president Eric Musekamp talk during a break at the WRAP AGM at Banff Park Lodge Jan. 16. Here, Liberal MLA Dr. David Swann; Lynn Jacobson Wild Rose Agriculture Producers' president; Ron Bonnett, Canadian Federation of Agriculture, and Farmerworkers Union of Alberta president Eric Musekamp talk during a break at the WRAP AGM at Banff Park Lodge Jan. 16.

The delay for farm safety legislation in Alberta will continue much to the chagrin of Dr. David Swann, Liberal MLA and despite the fact the Wild Rose Agriculture Producers (WRAP) are now seriously considering such legislation.


An Alberta provincial government representative told provincial media Jan. 18 that the premier is focused on the budget and not this particular legislation.
“You have to wonder what the government is doing,” said Swann, the MLA for Calgary Mountain-View and former Liberal leader. He singled out agriculture minister Verlyn Olson and David Hancock, human services minister.
“I’m really frustrated. Not as frustrated as people like (widow) Lorna Chandler or (Farmworkers Union president) Eric Musekamp... (Government officials) say they’re looking at it. They have a big staff, there’s no reason why they can’t look at it faster or sooner.”
At the annual general meeting in the latter half of January in Banff, WRAP held meetings and discussed the issue. The group passed two resolutions which officially stated:
“The official resolutions as passed at our AGM are as follows:
“1. BE IT RESOLVED that Wild Rose Agricultural Producers approach the WCB to discuss the inclusion of agricultural employment under the WCB Act.
“2. BE IT RESOLVED that Wild Rose Agricultural Producers, on behalf of healthy child development and agricultural workplace safety, supports legislated child labour standards for all paid child farmworkers.”
For Alberta agriculture producers, the public acknowledgment of at least looking at legislation is progress for the farm safety legislation movement which has been pushed by Farmworkers Union of Alberta president Eric Musekamp.
WRAP says these resolutions aren’t a complete endorsement of the legislation or the Farmworkers’ Union.
“We are not pushing WCB to include agricultural workers; we are simply gathering information and exploring the options;" explained Sheryl Rae, executive director, WRAP, the largest agriculture organization in Alberta.
Lynn Jacobson, president of WRAP, said in an interview his organization had been discussing the legislation and agricultural coverage with the Workers Compensation Board.
“We talked to a lot of our neighbours and friends and we came to the startling conclusion that this is something which needs to be looked at,” said Jacobson. “We don’t have the protection for them (workers) or the producers.
“However, the pressure is mounting to do something. We should be in the forefront in deciding this. It’s better to do something now.”
Swann wasn’t surprised that WRAP has taken this stance. He said he’s been working and talking with them for about a year.
Jacobson explained that while big commercial producers would need to look at spending some money for financial protection, it in turn will protect the producers themselves.
He cites the example of Chandler who lost her husband in 2006 after being killed in a grain elevator accident while at his job. She sued the employer and the decision was rendered in her favour on Nov. 12, 2012.
“We think there’s a better way to do that (handle compensation),” said Jacobson. “Had they had WCB, what the coverage would have done is saved everyone a lot (of time and pain) ... what are your costs to you and your farm if something like this happens to a worker. You can get eaten up assets pretty fast.”
“It’s up to the (farm) boss) if there’s any insurance for them,” added Swann.
When Musekamp first brought the idea forward that farmworkers needed protection, he was met with resistance if not some outright initial hostility.
Fast forward to 2013 and Jacobson said he hasn’t heard anything from his members.
“We haven’t seemed to have negative reaction at all,” explained Jacobson. “However, we don’t want to rush into anything ... we’re not advocating a farm union either. You don’t have to have a union to be in the WCB ... coverage is what’s at stake here. It’s cheaper than liability insurance. In the end it’s not an added expense.”
Jacobson said he had a meeting with agriculture minister Verlyn Olson Jan. 29 to see what more they could do.
For his part, Swann has tried going through lawyers of mega corporations such as McDonalds and Frito Lay which use the agriculture industry to supply them with produce and livestock.
He is not only concerned about WCB and insurance but about child labour on major farm operations, not the family farm.

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Ryan Dahlman

Managing Editor

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