Farm Workers Seek Equal Protection

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“It was shocking, but the fact a boss flipped out and killed his hired man is not too surprising.”

Fifty farm worker equal rights advocates attended the fifth annual Alberta Farm Workers Day barbecue at Turner Valley last month, and at least two MLAs and a Wild Rose Alliance Party leadership hopeful added support.

Eric Musekamp of Bow Island, president of the Farmworkers Union of Alberta, said while attending the Whoop-Up Days Parade that Aug. 20 marks the official day originally implemented by the Alberta Federation of Labour in 2005.

The stabbing death of Taberarea farm worker Terry Rash by his employer Charles Henry Beauchamp in 1999 was the theme this year, said Musekamp. Alberta Farm Worker Day remains focused on attaining equal health and safety rights for farm workers. “Really, equality for farm workers under the law,” he said.

Beauchamp was originally sentenced to two years in prison, but a three-member Alberta Court of Appeal ruled that term was “unreasonable or demonstrably unfit.” The sentence was doubled, and with time already served, the total sentence was three years and 10 months.

Musekamp said statistics show violence ranks number five in farm worker deaths and injuries. “It was shocking, but the fact a boss flipped out and killed his hired man is not too surprising.”

Musekamp said his crusade for farm worker rights comes down to what he calls second-class citizen status for farm workers. “By law, farm workers are excluded from every standard in the labour law for the work force,” he said.

His priority for change starts with mandatory Workers’ Compensation Board coverage for all farm workers and for them to be included under the Occupational Health and Safety regulations in Alberta.

The ultimate benefit should be the right for farm workers to join a union, he said.

Musekamp is getting mixed signals from Alberta farm organizations.

On the positive front, he has a signed memorandum of understanding with Wild Rose Agricultural Producers, Alberta’s general farm organization, to put forward a document to the Alberta government, likely in the spring, supporting a farm and ranch safety plan similar to one implemented in British Columbia.

Musekamp says he has a “relationship” with Rich Smith, executive director for Alberta Beef Producers, and has proposed action on farm workers rights to Edzo Kok, executive director of the Potato Growers of Alberta.

Some organizations hesitate mostly because producers and the directors of some are reluctant to agree to more regulation. “Many fear the hassle and cost.”

On the negative side is the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, which has launched a campaign to ask government to stop any move towards greater regulation in agriculture.

Still CFIB agrees there is a serious problem with health and safety in the agriculture industry, Musekamp said.

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