Alberta’s Prentice wants more research before pursuing farm safety changes
By The Canadian Press
Oct. 2, 2014, Edmonton, AB - Alberta Premier Jim Prentice says he's not considering putting workers on family farms under occupational health and safety rules.
Prentice adds it may be appropriate for workers in large, more corporate-type farming operations to be protected under labour legislation.
He says he wants to see more research and debate on the issue before taking action.
Prentice made the comments while taking questions on a CBC Radio phone-in show.
Some farm groups have demanded that Alberta match what's being done in the rest of Canada and lift occupational health and safety exemptions on farm workers.
More than 470 farm labourers have died on the job in Alberta in the last three decades.
The Alberta Federation of Labour says Alberta Agriculture Injury Prevention Working Group working with the provincial government on injury prevention in agriculture. It says in February 2013, senior bureaucrats in Alberta Agriculture suspended the activities of the group.
Nothing has been done on this since, said Vipond, adding it's rich that Prentice is calling for more research.
"If a worker goes to work, they deserve to be covered under the legislation, and the fact that they are going to a feedlot or an industrial agricultural site or a factory shouldn't make a difference whether or not we treat them as workers deserving these rights."
Eric Musekamp, president of the Farmworkers Union of Alberta, commended Prentice for separating the issues facing small and large operations, but said that the issue has already been studied extensively.
"It would certainly be a good step to extend OHS to large farms," said Musekamp. "It's not a coincidence that every other province has these regulations for the ag sector, or every other sector in Alberta has these regulations except agriculture."
Musekamp says the issue has been clouded by lumping together children helping out on a family operations with employees working on large-scale farms and ranches.
Alberta Federation of Agriculture chairman Lynn Jacobsen said producers are responsible business owners and clarity is required on what Prentice might be suggesting.
He stressed that some family-run farms are large operations and all farms likely have some combination of family and employed outside workers.
"We don't want it forced on agriculture, but in the long run there's probably going to be some form of regulation applied," said Jacobsen.
The AFA recommends that producers consider workers compensation coverage as a tool to manage liability risk if employees are injured.
The Alberta Beef Producers position is that mandatory measures would be too hard to enforce fairly and wouldn't significantly improve workplace safety.
It back efforts by industry working groups to provide advice on farm safety initiatives to the provincial government.
Musekamp said exempting one class of workers from safety legislation could be considered a human rights issue.
"(Producers and lobby groups) not wanting it doesn't equate to it being good or proper policy," he said.
Wildrose MLA Drew Barnes said there is little appetite among farmers and ranchers to increase regulation.
"The premier's trying to be on both sides of the issue," said Barnes. "They've been talking about it for years, saying they're going to look at it, and it never changes.
"What I'm hearing from constituents is that family farmers are happy with the status quo... I'm sure that if Prentice is legitimate about wanting to hear from Albertans, many (producers) will speak up."