New farm worker safety laws in Alberta not welcome by all

Injured farm workers are welcoming news that Alberta's agriculture minister wants to include them in occupational health and safety laws, but some ranchers say they are worried about government interference.

Alberta remains the only province that exempts farm workers in Occupational Health and Safety laws

Doug Bidulock is concerned changes to farm worker safety legislation would affect his ranching operation. (CBC)

Injured farm workers are encouraged Alberta's new agriculture minister wants to include them in workplace safety legislation, but some ranchers are worried government interference will hurt their operations.

Philippa Thomas still has chronic pain from an injury she received six years ago while working at a stable near Cochrane, Alta.

"We have rules and regulations on how to maintain the animals, to slaughter, to the Stampede grounds, anything like that," said Phillipa Thomasa Cochrane woman who was injured permanently while working at a stable in 2006. 

"But we have nothing for the people who get them to where they need to be."

Unlike other provinces, farm workers in Alberta are exempt from Occupational Health and Safety laws and they have no right to refuse unsafe work.

There is also no legislation requiring their employers maintain Workers Compensation Board coverage or child labour standards on farms and ranches.

"We try to do everything as proper as we can," said Doug Bidulock, a rancher in the Cochrane area.

Concerns about rules

"If they want to start implementing a bunch of rules and regulations you know, we're not like big businesses right," he said.

It's a concern that is not lost on Thomas, who says she understands why producers would be worried about new government rules that could affect their businesses.

"You know agriculture is a special thing in this province, just like oil and gas is a special thing, and you know they make the changes to accommodate whatever industry they're making rules for," she said. 

But farm workers have no rights when it comes to refusing unsafe work, and changing  the law would send a message that is long overdue, Thomas says.

"It is a big move; it's a bold statement."

It would be a big move all right, according to Bidulock, who says he's waiting to see what the province comes up with.

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