A special barbeque was held in Bridgeland on Wednesday to celebrate and recognize the men and women who put food on our plates and to draw attention to workplace safety on Alberta farms.
The 10th annual Farmworker Day event was hosted by Alberta Liberal Critic for Agriculture and Rural Development and Calgary Mountain View MLA Dr. David Swann.
Swann used the occasion to call for better workplace protection for Alberta farm workers.
“All of these farm workers, paid farm workers who put in a tremendous amount of hours and effort to keep us fed lack the basic rights of a safe workplace, compensation if they get injured, child labour standards and labour standards in general,” said Swann.
He says the province has excluded farm workers from “the basic protections of every other worker in this country.”
“There are no longer any justifications for failing to put in place occupational health and safety standards,” said Swann. “For political purposes, is all we can understand, is this government continues to say no, it’s not the right time, no, it’s not necessary, we’re doing lots of education and so on, the results speak for themselves, violating rights and unnecessary, preventable deaths and injuries for which no compensation is guaranteed.”
Swann says it is illegal for farm workers to form a union to negotiate basic rights.
“It has been a decade now since Eric MuseKamp and Darlene Dunlop launched their ‘illegal’ Farmworkers’ Union. That’s right; it’s illegal in Alberta for paid farmworkers to form a union to negotiate basic rights in their risky workplaces.
Eric Musekamp is the President and Founder of the Farmworkers Union of Alberta.
“We think we should have the right to join a union if we want to and we do actually have a constitutional right to join or form a union, we are just being blocked by the provincial government from doing so,” said Musekamp. “It is unconstitutional to exclude farm workers from labour legislation, plain and simple. It is fundamentally unconstitutional.”
Swann says they have written to major food producers asking them to push the government to ensure proper occupational health and safety standards are in place on Alberta farms.
“Large industrial corporations is what they are, multi-nationals many of them. And ask them to add their voices and maybe even, at some point, stop buying some producers who significantly risk the lives of their farm workers.”
“We are calling on industry to change your position. McDonald’s Restaurants for example of Canada, we’ve been in contact with them, Pepsi-Cola, Frito-Lay, Calgary Coop, many of these big industries they benefit directly from child labour, from unregulated workplace, from a dangerous workplace, they benefit directly and they have been messaging this government to maintain the status quo,” said Musekamp. “You’ve got to change your position and quit advocating for unfettered child labour and unconstitutional conduct.”
Swann says 18 to 20 farm workers are killed in workplace incidents every year and there have been 550 fatalities over the last ten years.