Yesterday, the province released the report of the Farm Safety Advisory Council’s report, more than a year after it was submitted to the government.
The government has accepted all of the recommendations in the report. This is not surprising since the recommendations are basically status quo statements developed by a committee dominated by agricultural producers. The strategies include focusing on (demonstrably ineffective) education and safety certifications (a style of programming the Auditor General has criticized in other industries). Basically more of the same that we already know doesn’t work.
This week happens to be agriculture safety week in Alberta and there were a couple of statements in the house around farm safety. David Swann’s statement yesterday is worth reading as it highlights one of the ironies of agricultural safety in Alberta: farm animals have more safety rights than farm workers:
Dr. Swann: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. This is Agricultural Safety Week, and we’ll no doubt see some celebrations by the government, but this Premier’s promise to address the unjust and unsafe working conditions for paid farm workers, including children, remains another promise unfulfilled. Ironically, Alberta’s farm animals will be celebrating their 30th anniversary of legislated health and safety standards, Mr. Speaker: animals with legislated health and safety standards, the strictest farm animal care legislation in North America. For example, it’s illegal to carry farm animals in an open pickup truck in Alberta, but farm workers? Not a problem.
Politically motivated exemptions for industrial farming operations for occupational health and safety, workers’ compensation, and child labour legislation are appalling to conscientious Albertans, as they should be. This discrimination leaves workers and their families at peril and transfers, according to the most recent Alberta statistics, $374 million for farm injuries over the past 20 years onto the health care budget instead of costs being borne by the agriculture industry through WCB, as is mandatory for all other industrial operations.
Now there is the much-touted social policy framework from a minister who formerly, as child and family services minister and Health minister, took no action on unregulated child farm workers and safety standards for agricultural operations. His glossy brochure calls for all Albertans to be “Safe, Healthy, Secure and Resilient”; that is, unless you’re a paid farm worker. Small wonder that this government and this framework are viewed by most Albertans as all about political spin. Agriculture workers, including children, deserve the same rights as every other worker. Agricultural Safety Week: only the farm animals have anything to celebrate.
-- Bob Barnetson