Alberta Farm Fatalities Going Unreported: Union Says Workers Unprotected

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EDMONTON - The Alberta Federation of Labour is criticizing the provincial government for no longer reporting farm fatalities.

The federation says the move is an example of how "agricultural workers are being erased in Alberta."

"This decision to stop reporting the number and nature of farm deaths helps to hide the real problem – Alberta’s deplorable lack of workplace protection for farms workers in the province,” spokeswoman Nancy Furlong said in a release Monday.

“It’s particularly insulting to the families of those killed on the job to have to call on the government to continue to simply report these incidents.”

The federation says the province is the only one in Canada where farm workers aren't covered by occupational health and safety laws. It says they are also excluded from legislation on hours of work and overtime, statutory holidays and vacation pay.

A judicial inquiry in 2008 into the death of worker Kevin Chandler in a farm accident near High River, Alta., recommended the inclusion of farm labourers in laws ensuring workplace protections.

“It is the government’s duty to protect workers, but also to report their deaths and injuries. Death and injury prevention requires knowledge of the frequency and nature of the incidents,” said Furlong.

The federation says the province announced its plans on a government website and offered no meaningful explanation for the change.

Alberta Agriculture said Monday it is reviewing how it publishes information about farm worker deaths and injuries with an eye to protecting the privacy of victims and their families.

Stuart Elson, a ministry spokesman, said updated statistics could be available later this week.

On the larger question of when or if the government will introduce workplace safety legislation to protect farms workers, Elson said at least two ministries are studying the issue.

"Education and awareness are best suited to the practical realities of farming," he said.

"We are continuing to work with the Ministry of Human Services to improve farm safety. That is all I can really say at this point."

The NDP's agriculture critic used a stop in Lethbridge, Alta., to blast the government for what he called inaction on workplace safety for farm workers.

David Eggen said it's disturbing that the lives of Alberta labourers on the land appear to mean so little to the government.

"It's very dangerous work and farm workers are not being protected with the basic rights that other workers have here in Alberta," Eggen said.

"They're far behind the rest of Canadian farm workers and now suddenly (Premier Alison) Redford makes the page go dark on the statistics that we can use to track farm workers here in the province."

Liberal critic David Swann said there are an average of 30 farm deaths a year over the last 20 years.

"Despite the number of injuries and deaths amongst farm workers ... the government has undertaken no action to require improved health and safety conditions surrounding paid agriculture employees," he said in a release.

— With files from CJOC

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