Alberta labour minister to move on farm worker safety

The NDP government may be about to fulfil a longstanding pledge to Alberta farm workers, who are excluded from coverage under occupational health and safety, workers compensation and employment standards regulations.

Only 7 per cent of farm workers have Workers' Compensation Benefits

Farmworkers in Alberta are currently excluded from coverage under occupational health and safety, workers's compensation and employment standards regulations. (Jason Kryk/Canadian Press)

Alberta may be about to join the rest of Canada by enacting workplace safety legislation that covers farm workers.

The NDP is a longtime supporter of that protection and is now prepared to move on it, according to Labour Minister Lori Sigurdson.

"Everyone should be able to go to work regardless of the workplace and come home safe and be protected," she said.

The government has been meeting with stakeholders and will bring proposals forward this fall, she says, although she did not provide details.

​It's welcome news to Darlene Dunlop, a co-founder of the Farmworkers Union of Alberta, an organization working for more than a decade to bring about change.

Farm workers face dangerous situations all the time, and often they don't know what kind of chemicals they are spraying on crops, she says.

Lori Sigurdson, minister of jobs, skills, training and labour, is bringing forward workplace safety changes for farm workers this fall. (Terry Reith/CBC)

"Without labour standards, without occupational health and safety, you don't have a right to know these things. You don't have a right to refuse a dangerous job and keep your job."

The vast majority of farm workers are excluded from coverage under occupational health and safety, workers compensation and employment standards regulations.

Only about seven per cent of Alberta farmers provide workers with WCB coverage despite the conditions workers face regularly, Dunlop says.

"High-voltage electricity and water, or how about the pesticides that are used, and the workers are generally not given any training in how to use them," she said.

"So the taxpayer is on the hook for cost of care for about 93 per cent of workers who may get injured."

The government's comments on legislation coming this fall coincide with the annual Farm Workers Day in Alberta, sponsored by the Alberta Federation of Labour.

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