As agricultural workers marked the province’s 10th annual Farm Workers Day on Aug. 20, Alberta remains the only place in Canada that excludes them from employment standards, health and safety and ?the right to unionize.
The Alberta Federation of Labour along with other concerned organizations are calling for the immediate inclusion of agricultural workers in Alberta’s workplace standards.
“The people who work in Alberta’s vibrant agricultural sector deserve the same protections as any other Albertans,” AFL secretary treasurer Siobhan Vipond said. “It’s an antiquated exception from the rules that doesn’t make sense in the 21st century. This doesn’t happen anywhere else in Canada — or in most G7 nations. We’re completely alone in this unfair, unjust and callous disregard of the well-being of agricultural workers."
More than 50,000 Albertans work in the agricultural sector. They account for 2.6 per cent of the workforce — and yet have few legal protections in their workplace. One in five agricultural workers in Alberta work at work sites with more than 20 employees.
“When these workers were excluded in the law, it was 1943, and farming was mostly done on family farms,” Vipond said. “But it’s been 70 years, and farming has changed. It is now dominated by huge corporations operating massive hog barns, corporate farms and mushroom factories, employing hundreds of workers. It’s time the law reflected reality, and protected these workers.”
Agricultural workers are exempt for most of the basic employment protections all other Albertans take for granted which makes them very vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. These workers have:
• no basic employment protections, such as minimum wage, limits on hours of work, rest, breaks, overtime or statutory holiday pay
• no health and safety protection
• no WCB when they get injured
• no right to unionize.
“Too many injuries and tragedies happen on Alberta’s farms. Too many of those could be prevented. There have been promises from the government, but no action on this issue,” Vipond said. “The exclusion of agricultural workers from the most basic workplace protections is a travesty, and one that Premier Hancock could rectify with the stroke of a pen.”
The annual Alberta Farm Workers Day commemorates the death of agricultural worker Terry Rash, who lost his life at the hands of his employer on August 20, 1999. Each year since 2005, Albertans commemorate Rash’s death, as well as the many other agricultural workers who have lost their lives as a result of work-related illness or injury.