By Dave Mabell, Southern Alberta Newspapers
Farm and ranch workers will gain the same health and safety protection that covers all other Albertans on Jan. 1, under a new government initiative announced Tuesday.
Employment Standards regulations, Workers Compensation coverage and Occupational Health and Safety laws will be changed to include about 60,000 employees who have no protection under current Alberta law – as promised by the New Democratic Party during last spring’s election campaign.
“Everyone deserves a safe, fair and healthy workplace,” said Jobs, Skills, Training and Labour Minister Lori Sigurdson in announcing the new government bill.
Alberta has been the only province offering no such protection.
The new government’s Bill 6, The Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act, was tabled in the Legislature on Tuesday.
Sigurdson also announced a series of public input and information sessions, including a Dec. 3 forum in Lethbridge. Albertans can also offer their views on-line at www.work.alberta.ca/farmandranch
Citizen and industry input opportunities will be followed in the new year by legislation amending the province’s employment standards and labour relations legislature, she said.
“We know Alberta’s farmers and ranchers are concerned about providing safe and fair workplaces,” said Oneil Carlier, the agriculture and forestry minister.
“I look forward to our discussions with them as we work out the details on the best way to do it.”
Protection for Alberta’s farm workers has been urged for many years by advocates like Bow Island residents Eric Musekamp and Darlene Dunlop. Musekamp, president of the Farmworkers Union of Alberta – not recognized by previous governments – began speaking out on the issue after a series of deaths and serious injuries on Alberta farms.
Last year, according to provincial reports, 25 Alberta farm workers died of farm-related injuries and hundreds more were admitted to hospital. Twelve of those killed were workers over the age of 65, and two under the age of 18.
“We want to ensure these devastating incidents don’t go un-investigated,” Sigurdson said. Investigators’ findings should “help producers and the industry manage the risks relating to farming operations.”
The new legislation will also require 43,000 farmers and ranchers to purchase insurance to cover their employees.
“We are making these changes because farm and ranch workers deserve the same rights and protections as workers in other industries,” she said.
“Today is a great day for Alberta,” responded Liberal leader David Swann, after the introduction of “desperately needed legislation.
“The days of a legal framework that would make Charles Dickens blush will at long last come to an end in Alberta.”
But Grant Hunter, the Wildrose critic for jobs, skills, training and labour agriculture, called for “proper consultation” with the province’s family farmers and industry representatives before changes are made.
Passing the legislation too quickly, he warned, “could lead to bad outcomes for Alberta’s second largest industry.”