Alberta farm worker protection a tough fight, says expert

Political observers say the fight to get more protection for farm workers in Alberta may not get much traction.

Farm workers not included in Alberta's Occupational Health and Safety Act

Farm worker protection

11 years ago
Duration 1:45
Political observers discuss the fight to get more protection for farm workers in Alberta.

Political observers say the fight to get more protection for farm workers in Alberta may not get much traction.

Eric Musekamp says his 25 years as a farm worker turned him into an activist.

"I worked alongside children as young as eight years old working in the potato cellars," he said.

Now Musekamp spends his days lobbying politicians to extend health and safety laws to farm workers.

But labour relations professor Bob Barneston isn't sure activists like Musekamp will get very far.

"I mean the PCs are in a tough spot," he said. 

"The Liberals and the New Democrats are going to criticize them for allowing farm children and farm workers to be injured in significant numbers.

"They're going to use that to try and unhinge PC support in urban ridings. However, if the PCs become responsive to that they're going to alienate a large number of rural voters, which means perhaps ceding some seats to the Wildrose."

Watch CBC Calgary TV News tonight starting at 5 p.m. MT to find out more on the politics at play when it comes to health and safety laws.

The government is reviewing a report from a farm safety advisory council, which recommends more education but no changes to labour legislation.

There is no word on when the government will make a decision.

Saskatchewan farm workers covered

In Saskatchewan farm workers have been covered for 40 years, meaning the government can do safety inspections at farms and ranches and investigate when there is an injury or fatality.

Glennis Bihun, the executive director of Occupational Health and Safety in that province, says an average of 14 farm-related deaths happen each year in Saskatchewan.

Alberta's yearly average is 17.

"Focusing on safety in our farms is critical, because it continues to be one of the most hazardous occupations in our province," she said.

Alberta Farm Fatalities: 1985 − 2011