One of the largest agricultural groups in Alberta is calling for legislated child labour standards for all paid farm workers.
Wild Rose Agricultural Producers (WRAP) delegates unanimously gave their approval to the resolution at their recent annual meeting in Banff. WRAP president Lynn Jacobson said the resolution was initially brought forward by one of their southern regions.
“It’s becoming an issue more and more,” he said of the lack of regulations around children and adolescents hired by farming operations. “So we’re saying, ‘That’s not right, there should be rules and regulations around when you hire children.’”
There wasn’t any opposition presented at the meeting to the resolution, Jacobson said. “There was some discussion at the table around it. People wanted information.”
He said the intent is not to stop child labour or target family farms, but there should be regulations governing hired help.
WRAP will seek a meeting with the government shortly on this and other topics, Jacobson said. And while the Alberta Liberals initially raised the issue on the political scene, he said this isn’t about parties. “It’s a social issue, it’s not a political issue. It’s about our kids and other people’s kids and how we treat them.”
Liberal critic pleased
Alberta Liberal Human Services critic David Swann spoke at the WRAP meeting. Swann brought child labour and agriculture national attention in 2012 when he wrote a letter to Frito-Lay asking it to boycott Alberta potatoes due to child labour.
“I think the exciting part of this is that the leadership of the largest agricultural organization in Alberta has been very clear and very public about its commitment to child labour standards — legislated child labour standards,” Swann said.
He said he’s been campaigning for farm child labour regulations and health and safety standards in general to be put into place in the agriculture industry. “This is a big deal for me after seven years to see this kind of leadership, the possibility of change and the undeniability now that the agriculture industry wants to move forward,” he said. The government will have to address the issue now instead of dodging it, Swann said.
A clear affirmation
Eric Musekamp, president of the Farmworkers Union of Alberta, said the resolution will help gain traction for the issue with the agriculture and employment ministers.
“They’re not going to be able to keep arguing that it’s a non-issue,” Musekamp said, adding other “naysayers” will be quelled by Wild Rose Agricultural Producers bringing the resolution forward to the government. Musekamp called the resolution a “breakthrough.”
“It’s going to cause a sea of change on the agricultural labour front,” he said. “Condoning child labour is bad for our (Alberta’s) reputation.”
WRAP delegates also passed a resolution that the group approach the Worker’s Compensation Board to discuss the inclusion of agricultural workers under its umbrella.