By Tim Kalinowski
Eric Musekamp, president and founder of the Farm Workers’ Union of Alberta, asks why would anyone want to work in the Alberta ag sector when they are not guaranteed basic labour standards and rights under the law?
Especially when just next door in neighbouring provinces they are? He points a finger squarely at the UCP government’s Bill 26.
“Farm workers, ranch workers and greenhouse workers are now second class citizens (in Alberta),” says Musekamp.
“They have been denied constitutionally guaranteed rights, and they, of course, have been denied basic labour standards, labour rights, safety standards and Workers’ Compensation.
“I would suggest it is going to gravely exacerbate the already acute labour shortage within the industry,” he adds.
Musekamp acknowledges many farmers do have good relationships with their employees, and that’s why he doesn’t understand why there would be any support to put those employees in a vulnerable or exposed position if they should have an accident on the farm.
“Somehow a vocal group of farmers and ranchers believe they will personally derive benefit by denying these standards to their workers, and that’s the voice the government listened to,” he says.
“The Minister (of Agriculture and Forestry) listened to these uninformed voices, and paid no attention to his legal duty to uphold (constitutional) law.”
Musekamp says he has spoken with many older and experienced farm workers, particularly, who aren’t willing to take their chances anymore, and put their families at risk, if they should get hurt working on a farm.
They are looking for employment in other sectors where OHS and WCB guidelines are followed, he says.
“Farm workers are aware, much more than they were,” he confirms. “As an example, I just had a visit with a lifelong farm worker. He’s 56-years-old, and there are neighbours around who want him to work for them. And he won’t do it.
“He’ll be ‘damned if he is ever going to work on another farm;’ those are his words. Because when Bill 6 came in they gathered an awareness of what’s going on, and now they are aware of what’s being done to them.”