Once again, PC Alberta government stomps on the rights of agriculture workers

Exclusion of Alberta Farm Workers Report

Toronto – January 24, 2015 – The Alberta Progressive Conservative government has said “NO” to a report recommending Workers Compensation injury coverage for agriculture workers. The same government also continues to exclude agriculture workers from the protections of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, despite the recommendations of a 2008 public inquiry.

The PC government’s refusal to extend WCB coverage to agriculture workers came just days after a report was released by the University of Alberta’s Parkland Institute. The report detailed unless it became mandatory for the agriculture industry to pay into the system, that more than 90% of the province’s 36,000 agriculture workers would continue to get shut out from financial assistance and retraining if they were injured.

The issue is not about family farms. The vast majority of paid agriculture workers are employed by industrial sized operations. “The government says farmers can’t afford (WCB insurance), that the family farm would be imperilled,” said Bob Branetson, the author of the report. “But the majority of waged farm work doesn’t happen on Little House on the Prairie, at ma and pa operations, it happens on farms that are thousands and thousands of acres or have hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual revenue. Those farms can afford Workers’ Compensation premiums. They just don’t want to pay them.”

Alberta also remains the only province in Canada that denies Occupational Health and Safety coverage to agriculture workers, despite more than 400 agriculture fatalities since 1990, and more than 9,000 hospitalizations over the same period. In 2013 alone, the number of farm deaths in Alberta climbed to 16, up from 10 in 2012.

“Alberta agriculture workers continue to face an unjust and dangerous environment,” says UFCW Canada National President Meinema. “They deserve and need the same safety protections and access to compensation like other workers in Alberta. To continue to deny them these rights is blatant and callous discrimination.”