It is the fourth most hazardous industry in Canada for injury. And when it comes to fatality rates, there is no profession more dangerous. Why, then, aren’t farm workers fairly and equitably protected by legislation in their workplace?
Join researcher Don Voaklander on March 9 for a free public lecture as he examines the frequency, causes and risk factors for farm injury in Alberta. Voaklander will also discuss barriers to prevention, with a focus on the false notion that farm injuries are “all in a day’s work.”You can also view the lecture using Adobe Connect.
Second, last week the Parkland Institute published a blog post I wrote about a hither unto secret report about farmworker injury insurance commissioned by Alberta’s former Tory government. The report confirms that, before Bill 6, many farmers carried no injury insurance for their workers and almost all farmworkers had inadequate accidental death coverage.
The study tells us four things:
First, the former Progressive Conservative government had evidence that 8,000 farm employees were uninsured or under-insured against injuries but took no action to make workers’ compensation coverage mandatory. It is unclear why the previous government made this policy choice, but I suspect it was about fear of losing the rural votes and seats. Given the reaction to the NDP government's Bill 6, this fear was likely reasonable, yet that hardly justifies leaving nearly 100 injured farm workers and their families each year without financial support.
Second, the narrative that “farmers take care of their own” is not fully true. While the report does suggest some farmers may provide some wage support to uninsured farm employees who were unable to work due to injury, there is no evidence of that. What there is evidence of is that, left to their own devices, medium and large farm employers left more than 8,000 farm workers with no disability coverage. And they left over 35,000 farms workers with no or inadequate accidental death coverage.
Third, farmers' lack of adequate insurance coverage for their workers is not surprising. Like all employers, farm operators are driven by the profit imperative and consequently seek to minimize labour costs. The most practical way to ensure that all farmers provide adequate injury insurance to their employees is to mandate workers' compensation insurance — as the government does for virtually every other employer in Alberta. This is what the government eventually did in Bill 6.
Fourth, for all but the biggest producers, the cost of workers’ compensation insurance is the same or less than comparable private insurance. This suggests that complaints about the cost of WCB insurance are coming from a) farm operators who otherwise would not carry insurance for their workers, b) those who don’t understand the actual cost of WCB coverage, c) the very largest of producers (who are most able to afford WCB coverage), or d) people whose opposition to workers’ compensation has nothing to do with the cost of insurance.
As the Bill 6 working groups finally wrap up their work, the major question facing the government is how to go forward given the ridiculous nature of some of the recommendations.
-- Bob Barnetson