Thursday, August 5, 2010

Farm Workers to Remain Excluded

While government consultations are still continuing, the Calgary Herald is reporting that farm workers will continue to be excluded from Alberta's occupational health and safety and workers' compensation laws. This seems like an odd choice, given the Minister of Employment's announcement last week that he will be improving Alberta's OHS system in the wake of the Auditor General's report from April.

“Let this serve as official notice for any Alberta company that doesn’t want to play by the rules,” said Minister Lukaszuk. “Today is a new day for Occupational Health and Safety in Alberta.” Unless, it seems, you are n employer in an occupation that falls outside the rules due to statutory exclusions.

Alberta farm workers remain one of Canada's least protected employee groups. Farm and ranch employees are not subject to minimum wage, hour of work, overtime, vacation pay, general holiday pay, rest periods and child labour provisions of the Employment Standards Code. Farm and ranch workers are also excluded from labour legislation that regulates unionization and collective bargaining, thereby effectively precluding these activities by workers.

Farm and ranch workers are exempted from health and safety legislation by regulation. By contrast, Ontario brought farm workers under the ambit of its OHS legislation in 2006. And workers’ compensation coverage is not mandatory for farm workers, although employers can purchase optional coverage . Workers whose employers do not voluntarily purchase workers’ compensation insurance are left to pursue recourse for injuries through the courts or private insurance schemes, routes employees have traditionally had difficulty accessing.

An important question is why exclude a vulnerable group from basic employment rights broadly available throughout Canada? This article suggests that doing so runs contrary to the interests of the state, agricultural corporations and farmers. And that the gerrymandering of Alberta's electoral boundaries to ensure rural voters are over-represented creates a political imperative for the government to maintain the exclusion, particularly in light of the political threat posed by the Wild Rose Alliance.

Unfortunately for agricultural workers, this means they have effectively no statutory protection on the job.

-- Bob Barnetson

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