By Collin Gallant
Southern Alberta Newspapers
A worker’s rights advocate is taking issue with a business group’s assertion that bringing occupational health and safety regulations to farms and ranches is unnecessary or “silly.”
Last week the Canadian Federation of Independent Business released its annual Paperweight Awards given each year to highlight a “tangled mess of short-sighted regulations” that weigh on business.
This year’s list includes Ottawa city business inspectors who shut down a child’s lemonade stand, but also Alberta’s Bill 6 which aims to extend safety regulations and labour standards to farm and ranches.
Eric Musekamp, head of the Farmworkers Union of Alberta, said the inclusion is a “disappointing and disingenuous” attempt to discredit the process.
“It’s pretty unfortunate to take something that’s vital, lifesaving and necessary as occupational health and safety regulations and lump it in with silly nonsense,” said Musekamp.
“It’s not ridiculous, it’s not like a lemonade stand. It’s a matter of life or death, and it’s a matter of fundamental constitutional rights. It’s as serious a stuff as you can get.”
The New Democrats introduced Bill 6 in late 2015 arguing that the province was the last to expand workplace safety law to farms, leading to poor reporting of accidents and fatalities.
Producers, industry groups and political opponents said it would layer costly burdens on them and not improve safety.
Agriculture businesses that had paid employees were required to take out WCB coverage in early 2016. Since last summer, working groups made up from industry, workers and regulators are developing farm and ranch safety standards.
Amber Ruddy, the CFIB’s director of provincial affairs in Alberta, said the awards reflect her group’s concern that such regulations can’t be easily applied to agribusiness.
“I’ve heard directly from farmers and the (incoming regulations) have them quite upset,” she said.
“In the government consultations, or lack there of, there have been concerns raised by farmers. We need to recognize their significant concerns.”
The CFIB award citation states the “legislation will have a crippling effect on the farms in the province because as currently written these rules and regulations may make sense for retail businesses but are not written with the realities of farming in mind.”
Musekamp said the CFIB should know that farm specific rules are being developed. He is currently working with one group dealing with safety certification alongside CFIB vice-president Richard Truscott .
“(The CFIB is) leading an assault on farm workers,” said Musekamp.
“They’re so bent on their ideological outlook and to discredit the NDP government that they’ll even usurp the interests of their members.”
Musekamp and even some producer groups have said that workers compensation coverage has been beneficial.
Alberta Liberal Leader David Swann also criticized the CFIB award in a release this week stating the bill benefits both workers and employers
“Workers’ Compensation offers no-fault coverage to employers,” said Swann. “More importantly, Bill 6 gives basic legal protections to farm workers that have been lacking for almost a century.”
Wildrose Leader Brian Jean has said an industry-driven approach is needed and his party would repeal the bill if his party formed the next government.
Information on the CFIB website states the group represents 7,200 farm and ranch operators in Canada.