It’s unfortunate that the issue of workers compensation and health and safety laws for farm workers has not taken a major place in the Alberta election debate.
The situation, as it stands right now in Alberta, is immoral. Workers in all other industries are covered by compensation and occupational standards laws, but farms in the province are exempt.
As The Western Producer’s Barb Glen reports in a story on page 66 of this edition, last year alone, 25 farm related deaths in Alberta were investigated by the chief medical examiner’s office.
A life in a dangerous occupation ought to be protected the way any other life is, whether it’s a relative pitching in or a hired farm worker.
By contrast, in the Ontario mining industry, which also works with big equipment, 11 deaths in a seven-year period brought the labour industry to a near open revolt, demanding an inquiry. The initiative was supported by several municipal councils, forcing the province to call a mining review, which is just short of an inquiry. That came about after the Vale (which swallowed up the former Inco Ltd.) was fined $1 million under the province’s Occupational Health and Safety Act for the deaths of two workers underground in 2011.
The act’s equivalent in Alberta does not apply to farm workers, though they are perishing at a much faster rate.
The argument that it’s too expensive is no longer valid. It’s about politics, and the quest for the rural vote. The cost of WCB coverage in Alberta is $2.71 per $100 of insurable earnings. That should not be onerous. And why not apply workplace standards?
Farms owners can offer insurance voluntarily, but only about seven percent do.
Alberta is under the microscope at the moment because an election offered the opportunity to debate the merits of the issue.
The fault for lack of action lies largely with the PCs, who have ruled Alberta for four decades. But as the election unfolds, either leader Jim Prentice, the Wild Rose’s Brian Jean or even the NDP’s Rachel Notley may lead the province, possibly in a minority government.
When five people died in farming accidents in Alberta in November, Prentice offered his condolences. He must offer more than that.
Whoever wins must not let this shameful situation stand.