Letters to the editor – June 8, 2017


Farm workers’ safety

Re: Alberta Bill 17 — The Fair and Family friendly Workplaces Act

I am writing to comment on the efforts by the government of Alberta to modernize labour legislation in the province and extend it to farm operations.

First off, I think the reforms are long overdue and are only catching up to what other jurisdictions, including Saskatchewan, have done in whole or in part.

Ending the exemption of farm operations from labour standards and labour relations legislation is something that should have occurred in the 20th Century.

Providing for the ability of farm workers to unionize simply ack-nowledges a right they have under Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Those who oppose the relatively modest reforms spelled out in Bill 17 resort to shrill hyperbole in expressing their opposition.

For example, farm workers in Saskatchewan have had the right to unionize since 1945 and no one can claim it’s been a negative factor whatsoever in determining the fate of agriculture or the family farm.


People who oppose the right of farm workers to join a union seem to believe they have something to fear and maybe they do, if they’re the kind of employer who doesn’t have fair or respectful employment practices.

Workers join unions when they want dignity and respect in the workplace.

Even with the passage of Bill 17, the prospect of small groups of farm workers banding together and unionizing seems fairly remote if the Saskatchewan experience over the last 72 years is any indication.

Unfortunately, economic realities and the relative isolation of farm workers present serious barriers to unionizing farm operations.

These barriers can only be overcome if there is some form of sectoral representation and collective bargaining and that is not provided for in Alberta’s Bill 17.

The right to unionize is no less integral to a democracy than the right to vote.


Opposing legislative recognition of the right to unionize, however symbolic it might be in relation to farm workers in Alberta, is akin to defending the master and servant dynamics of past centuries. It is ironic that opponents use social media platforms to express their pre-19th century prejudices.

In my opinion, the same flaws are present in the arguments against extending minimum labour standards requirements to farm operations.

Why should farm operations be exempt when the local garage, grocery store or farm supply outlet aren’t exempt.

In the entire supply chain serving farms that produce field crops for shipping and processing, only the farm is exempt from minimum labour standards legislation. This is an anachronistic continuation from the time when the mom and pop family farm was the prevailing norm.

By the way, mom, pop and other members of the family are exempt from coverage by Bill 17, but why let facts get in the way of the ideological rantings of those who want democracy for themselves and servitude for others.

Hugh Wagner
General Secretary
Grain and General Services Union (ILWU • Canada)


Hugh Wagner

  • Harold

    Perhaps Hugh, you should re-read the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The freedoms also include the freedom to NOT be part of a Union or to be under the influence of any Union or be compelled to join any Union. This NDP Bill removes this Guaranteed Freedom from the people of Alberta whether or not they are Union and the deceptive Union’s, and NDP Party is hiding this fact from the public. Union Power is their objective for which the individual union worker is of little concern’; hence government lobbying for Union over-reaching power. It is a Union power grab and nothing more and has nothing to do with fair, or family friendly. The Alberta Government Is willfully deceiving ALL Albertan’s into giving up their freedoms guaranteed to them by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and handing their freedom over to the Union. Further, Every Albertan is EQUAL before and under the law and has a Right to EQUAL BENEFIT OF THE LAW WITHOUT DISCRIMINATION….., for which the government is obligated to when creating their Bill. Equal without discrimination means: A Law that protects non-union and Union, and this Bill is none of the sort; it is undemocratic, and a further deception. This Bill gives striking workers the Right to strike and disrupt every farm in Alberta and regardless if the farm is directly involved or not. The Bill also applies to all other businesses in Alberta and whether they are directly involved in the dispute or not, their business can be disrupted by picketers.
    You say that the “the right to unionize is no less integral to a democracy than the right to vote” and this is not true. You do not have a Right to a Union as you do a Right to Vote. A vote is regardless of any Association. You have an unhindered Freedom to join an association of an INDIVIDUAL’s own free choosing. If no one chooses your union then you do not exist; does the Government disappear along with you?
    Within all Union controlled shops the freedom for the individual to disassociate from the Union is denied, and against the individual’s will, they are robbed of money or lose their jobs or cannot gain the jobs. The Union takes ownership of the jobs and an employee pays a monthly fee to have it.
    You ask “why should farm operations be exempt when the local garage, grocery store or farm supply outlet aren’t exempt” yet you cite from The Canadian Charter of Rights and freedoms. It is simple. Those groups chose of their freedom to associate with a union and the others in the same freedom chose not. Your question certainly adds to the color of a Unions underling lust to forcefully dominate others. Perhaps Bill 17 can help whereas Union integrity will not have them willingly come in. It might be fair to say that Union’s despise those that they cannot capture and control.
    In part you also stated ….. “but why let facts get in the way of the ideological rantings of those who want democracy for themselves and servitude for others” but it is the Union leaders who truly want control of the Democracy and gain the servitude of others. The facts stand in the way of your “ideological rantings”.
    Furthermore the word Democracy historically originated from Capitalism and the freedoms that are necessary for any individual to self determine in the market place and more. The word Democracy did not come out of thin air and then the brainiac’s gave it meaning. Capitalists are those who risk their own money to create businesses, jobs, and profits for expansion, and then more jobs and when capitalists loose, they lose everything. A farmer is a Capitalist and reliant upon Democracy and freedoms. Don’t pretend for a moment that a Union is in the same league or is concerned with Democracy when its agenda is truly to gain power through socialism akin to communism.
    Alberta is now learning that the NEW in new Democrat, is Socialist Democrat, and that a Socialist Democrat, is as having no Democrat at all, and no Democrat is creating the Socialist’s Bill’s, which are the only Bill’s that the NDP have produced.

    Nonetheless, i wouldn’t expect anything other than a Union adventure coming from the chair of the General Secretary, of the Grain and General Services Union (ILWU • Canada)
    That being said, I have always been more powerful than a Union and the least when I was its member.