The people who process crop insurance claims and AgriStability payments for Saskatchewan farmers are on the picket line as of Tuesday afternoon.
About 470 workers, represented by the Saskatchewan Government and General Employees’ Union (SGEU), walked off the job at 2 p.m., with union leaders saying talks had stalled and management at Melville-based Saskatchewan Crop Insurance Corp. “are not interested in addressing the economic issues faced by the workers.”
Describing the striking staff as “farmers and everyday rural people,” SGEU president Bob Bymoen said the employees “have not struck in 25 years and are now being forced to take a stand to try to get a fair deal from this government.”
However, SGEU negotiating committee chair Alan Evans said, the decision to strike came with “a lot of anxiety” given current weather conditions in the province.
An extension granted in late May on several seeding deadlines for crop insurance purposes expired Monday (June 20), with several communities in the province’s southeast still facing unseedable cropland, excess moisture and substantial flooding.
For farmers who were able to seed, full yield-loss coverage begins Tuesday (June 21). Insured farmers still unable to get crops in by the extended deadlines will have to file claims for unseeded acreage, as of Monday.
Farmers in the province also have until Saturday (June 25) to file their seeded acreage reports on all crops other than greenfeed.
Furthermore, with Canada Post employees still locked out, the crop insurance agency previously said it planned to use its network of customer service offices across the province to ensure farmers had access to their program correspondence, including any payment or benefit cheques.
Back-to-work legislation was introduced Monday in Ottawa to end the Canada Post strike, but that bill hasn’t yet cleared the Commons.
“Given weather conditions this year, we know that farms are under a lot of pressure,” Evans said Tuesday in the union’s release. “We are committed to clearing any backlog as quickly as possible when we return to work.”
Saskatchewan Crop Insurance Corp. had no official comment Tuesday.
The SGEU-represented employees have been without a contract since September 2009.
In terms of wages, “we haven’t kept up with the rate of inflation in 25 years,” Evans said in the release. “Now we are being offered 1.5, 1.75 and 1.75 per cent, for a total of five per cent over three years. This is unacceptable. We provide prompt and efficient delivery of insurance requirements for farmers and are worthy of a reasonable pay increase.”
Furthermore, he said, “the expenses we receive for using our own vehicles to conduct the business of the corporation do not cover the true costs,” said Evans.