Farm workers bill will bring fairness, safety to agricultural sector, says HSAA

“Protecting [farm and ranch workers] will not only save lives and prevent injuries, it will reduce the strain on our health-care system.” — Elisabeth Ballermann, HSAA President

Edmonton (02 Dec. 2015) — Nearly a century of discrimination against farm workers in Alberta will begin to come to an end with the introduction of legislation by Alberta’s NDP government on Nov. 17, says the Health Sciences Association of Alberta (HSAA/NUPGE).

HSAA/NUPGE is the union of health care professionals that represents about 24,000 members.

If passed, the Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act will ensure that 60,000 farm and ranch workers in Alberta will have the same basic protections that other workers in the province have received for decades.

Proposed bill leads to increased safety on farms and ranches

The proposed changes include

  • Farm and ranch employers will be required to purchase mandatory Workers’ Compensation Board insurance to protect workers injured on the job. (The Workers’ Compensation Act was introduced in 1918, nearly a century ago, but Alberta farm and ranch employers were able to opt out of providing insurance.)
  • Workers will be given the right to refuse unsafe work without fear of losing their jobs
  • Occupational health and safety officers will be able to investigate accidents and carry out inspections and impose penalties. (Alberta’s Occupational Safety and Health Act was implemented in 1976, nearly four decades ago, but farms and ranches were exempted.)
  • Workers will be able to join unions and will be entitled to minimum wage, overtime and vacation pay. (Alberta’s first comprehensive labour legislation was put in place in 1938, but farms and ranches were exempted.)

Not all of the changes will be immediate. Employers will have until April 2016 to register with WCB, but workers will be covered from January 1, 2016. The ability of workers to join unions and bargain collectively will start in the spring of 2016.

Alberta government to hold consultations before legislation changed

There will be consultation with employers before changes to employment standards and labour relations are implemented in the spring. Rules governing occupational health and safety will be developed in conjunction with industry and will be implemented in 2017.

“HSAA/NUPGE is pleased to finally see fairness and safety being brought to Alberta’s agricultural sector after so long,” says Elisabeth Ballermann, HSAA President.

Farm injuries are borne by public health system, cost millions each year

“Farm and ranch workers deserve the same rights and protections as all other workers. Alberta has been the only province in Canada that excluded farm workers from those rights and protections, despite unfulfilled promises from previous Conservative governments,” she says. “Protecting them will not only save lives and prevent injuries, it will reduce the strain on our health-care system.”

Research by Bob Barnetson, associate professor of labour relations at Athabasca University, estimates that the medical costs of treating injured farm workers — paid by Alberta Health Services (AHS) and costs for individual workers — is between $4.5 million and $8 million per year. In any other industry, the cost of treating injured workers is borne by the employers through WCB premiums.

Alberta can still  do more to support farmers 

Ray Geldreich, HSAA Health and Safety Advisor, says that while these changes are welcome, Alberta still needs to do more.

“We would have liked to see the government provide more funding and resources to help farms implement these safety measures, in the same way that support has been provided to other industries,” he says.

NUPGE

The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 360,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE

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