Wednesday, 22 February 2017 11:39

2015 report says government knew farm workers needed protection, but clarification is still lacking

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Not that they are smiling smugly somewhere, but one has to know that Alberta Farmworkers Union’s Eric Musekamp and Darlene Dunlop are feeling a little bit of redemption and justification in their more than decade-long battle for establishing farm workers’ rights.

It’s too glib and far too serious a subject to say “we told you so,” but a Canadian Press story Feb. 22 stated the Sigma Risk Management Report presented to the Alberta provincial government in February 2015 stated that, “farm workers needed work place protection ... about 2,000 farm workers in Alberta suffer a lost-time accident each year and about 20 will die in workplace accidents.”
The report had also pointed out Worker Compensation Board coverage was “the cheapest option for small and medium-sized farms.” That WCB coverage doesn’t cover the farm owners or family members.
In other words, the previous Progressive Conservative government knew laws needed to be implemented. Of course in May 2015, the NDP government came into power.
It’s been a long battle for Musekamp and Dunlop who felt no one was listening. Some details and reports are finally starting to be released which prove and justify their points all along. Alberta was the only province in Canada where farm workers weren’t covered. It didn’t make a lot of sense.
While it is good the foundation is in place, the NDP government has still left the situation open-ended, unfinished and confusing for those in the agricultural sector.
Mandatory safety education and  rules on the number of hours and working overtime — which for those who don’t know happens a lot in the agricultural sector — are still vague. Fatigue of course contributes to sustaining injuries.
A lot of these details haven’t been completely finalized or outlined by the government since the mandatory coverage law — Bill 6 — came into effect in January 2016.
Workers and of course those who operate agricultural operations need to know exactly how the legislation applies to them.
Details need to be outlined and farmers and livestock owners shouldn’t be left hanging. They are in detail-oriented businesses and for this to be dragging on for so long after all the rush to get something implemented isn’t fair to either side.
Remember the November and December 2015 Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act consultation meetings? There was  anger and confusion as those in agriculture protested the changes because they didn’t like having new rules implemented without what they said was consultation, due process, full details or clarification. When government officials were telling those at those rallies they would fill in the details later, they just wanted to get the insurance aspect of it passed into law, it didn’t sit well. While there was hastily-arranged consultation groups government officials were to be meeting with, not a lot of information has been released.
Fast forward and Bill 6 is still vague in a lot of areas. Good on the government for getting some sort of protection for the workers, but this needs to be finalized and most importantly properly explained to those hard-working people in the agricultural industry who already have enough issues on their plate without not knowing what’s going on with this.
We are entering spring seeding and for many calving season, a very busy time in the agricultural sector when accidents could happen. These details needed to be finalized earlier in the winter, so an important opportunity of a slower agricultural season isn’t missed.
Then and only then, will Musekamp and Dunlop truly rest easy.
Ryan Dahlman is managing editor with the Prairie Post. Contact him with your comments about this opinion piece by emailing him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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Ryan Dahlman

Managing Editor