Tuesday, June 16, 2015

More dawdling on farmworker rights in Alberta

Last week, I published a piece with Change Alberta about Alberta’s New Democratic government waffling on giving farmworkers basic workplace rights. For example, at present, farmworkers have no right to know if they are using carcinogenic chemicals and no right to refuse such work (unless they want to risk getting fired).

I was particularly concerned by remarks attributed to ND Minister of Agriculture Oneil Carlier in an interview with Real Agriculture:
He also indicates changes to farm unionization policy and labour standards are “not a focus for us at this time.” 
“Making sure we have market access, making sure we have transportation infrastructure in place to move product to the markets, those are continually challenges and things I’ll work on with stakeholders in both industries to make sure we continue growing agriculture and forestry,” says Carlier.
Basically, Carlier’s remarks suggest that helping farmers comes before protecting farmworkers. This sits uncomfortably with comments various ND luminaries made while in opposition about the importance of protecting the lives of farmworkers.

Subsequently, Carlier was interviewed (along with Wildrose Ag Critic Rick Starkman) by Alberta Farm Express. Carlier was more circumspect (he basically said nothing). Starkman, however, was (in the immortal words of Nickelback) “balls out”:
“If it creates a safety environment, I’m for that. But you cannot legislate intelligence.”
So basically the Wildrose line is that workers get injured because they are stupid. This view ignores the awkward fact that workers get injured because there are hazards in their workplace. And it is employers (i.e., farmers) who determine what the hazards are in the workplace and (for the most part) how farmworkers interact with them.

Still later last week, Carlier told the Calgary Herald that there will be Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) protections for farmworkers. But that the NDs are currently consulting with employers and farmworkers about the direction of those changes. Overall, this looks like an effort to walk back the comments attributed to Carlier in Real Agriculture.

Perhaps this is good news. Interestingly, even the Alberta Federation of Agriculture seems resigned to some sort of regulation/ That said, the former Tory government stalled the issue for years by consulting with stakeholders, only to come up with meaningless recommendations around education (which research suggests has no real effect on farmworker injury rates).

I suspect the NDs have a lot of fish to fry and don't want to needlessly alienate farm employers. But providing Alberta farmworkers with basic rights—so they are less likely to get injured and killed and so that farmworkers and their families aren’t made destitute by workplace injury—is a profound moral failing of the Tory regime that needs to be set right.

-- Bob Barnetson

No comments:

Post a Comment