June 23rd, 2017

Farmworkers need help in Bill 6 transition period


By Letter to the Editor on January 28, 2017.

The Alberta government has made and continues to make efforts to work with farm and ranch owners to adopt Bill 6. However, its implementation continues to be stalled by the legacy of a century of “wild west” attitudes, and no guarantee of safe work standards or compensation for injury.

Farm and ranch workers remain financially vulnerable and unable to effectively contribute their knowledge and experience in this transition period, due to their lack of understanding of the new laws and difficulties in participating in consultations. At a time when their views and rights should be at the forefront, they remain vulnerable to owners who want no part of these changes.

A year on, Bill 6 has brought WCB coverage to many more farm and ranch workers and their employers. Unfortunately there is a large number of workers who are blocked or discouraged from making claims for injury, or even contributing to the working groups that are formulating the regulations that will protect them.

Dr. Bob Barnetson, labour professor at the University of Athabasca, has recently estimated the under- reporting of injuries to WCB at approximately 40 per cent, which is quite consistent with the anecdotal reports I have heard.

A few examples:

A 66-year-old farmworker was injured at work. He did not know he was covered by WCB and did not report the injury to his doctor since his employer had not informed him of the change. This worker had been injured some years earlier with this same employer and did not have coverage at that time — he assumed he was still not covered.

A 56-year-old farmworker injured his hand and was told by his employer not to report it as a farm accident to avoid paying higher premiums. He required reconstructive surgery (covered by Alberta Health Services and the public purse). The same worker later fell from a piece of equipment (likely due to his hand injury) suffering possible fractured ribs. Following explicit instructions from his employer, he did not report his injury as a WCB claim. He is now laid off for the winter without compensation. He expressed concern that if his employer finds out about his injuries he may not call him for work next season.

Bill 6 has and will improve the lives of farm and ranch workers, but the confusion around its implementation has made life difficult for many workers. There is a clear need to provide a confidential contact centre for counsel, education and assistance to farm and ranch workers as they adapt to their new rights and responsibilities. There is a century-old legacy of exclusion for farmworkers, and they can’t overcome it alone.

David Swann

Edmonton

(The writer is leader of the Alberta Liberal Party.)


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