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Bill 6 a pawn in political game by Wildrose party; Musekamp

Posted on December 9, 2015 by Taber Times

By Trevor Busch
Taber Times

A firestorm of protest by farmers across the province in recent weeks over the Notley NDP’s move to implement labour protections for farm workers has been predicated on a number of false presumptions, says the president of the Farmworker’s Union of Alberta.

“Overall, it’s very unfortunate that everyone’s been whipped into such a frenzy, mostly over misunderstandings and misinformation,” said Eric Musekamp, FUA president. “It seems this is being fomented by the Wildrose Party for a broader agenda, and they’re just using the farm family issue to further their political agenda, which is to try to discredit the NDP. It’s really too bad — they’re sure shooting themselves in the foot these guys.”

Bill 6, or the Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act, was tabled in the legislature last month, and has since met with heavy opposition from many of the 60,000 farmers and ranchers in Alberta. Alberta is currently the only province in Canada in which paid farm labour is exempted from Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) standards.

“It’s exactly what the government and the various crop commissions said they were going to do, and agreed to do,” said Musekamp. “And it’s exactly what’s necessary to honour the charter, and to position Alberta to work in the international marketplace. To be able to market our products internationally, we absolutely have to do this.”

A key omission from much of the debate surrounding Bill 6, according to Musekamp, is that the voice of the labour sector — actual paid farm workers — that the legislation is specifically designed to protect has been largely absent from the discussion.

“They’re scared shitless if they so much as raise an eyebrow,” said Musekamp. “They’re absolutely and completely disenfranchised. It’s tense out there right now. How would you like to be the hired man when your boss is jumping in the combine to roar up to Calgary or wherever to demand that you have no rights? It’s a preposterous situation.”

Many of the actual issues that might have existed with Bill 6 have now been blown so far out of proportion as to be ridiculous, added Musekamp.

“This is sour grapes, provocateurs fomenting discontent, that’s exactly what’s going on. This is way past the actual issues in the bill. Most of what all the holler is about is wrong, and based on misinformation. All of those concerns are not present, because the rules and regulations have not been written. All of this stuff about momma’s eggs, 4-H, can I take my kids in the combine — every single bit of all of that has yet to be determined. So what are they getting revved up about?”

Musekamp argues renewed demands for consultation on the legislation ignore the fact the government did conduct consultations prior to tabling Bill 6.

“The government has announced that we’re going to exempt family farms — just like you asked us to do — so now they’ve switched to hollering about no consultation. People have put forward evidence that there has been consultation, so now it’s not enough consultation, or the right kind of consultation. These guys expect that the minister should go and speak to every farmer and rancher, every guy with seven cows and 50 chickens? It’s unreasonable.”

Musekamp reported his overseas agricultural contacts and others in neighbouring jurisdictions in North America are baffled by the vitriolic opposition to labour legislation amongst producers in the province.

“I’ve heard from the UK, the EU, Eastern Canada and the U.S., and they’re saying what are you hillbillies doing? You want child labour and no safety? These convoys are getting the word out way more than I ever could as to what’s going on on farms. People are saying ‘Child labour? No standards? I never knew that’. I’ve been working for a decade to try to get people to know that. Now these guys are doing if for me.”

Taking dead aim at the Wildrose Party as responsible for much of the escalating opposition surrounding Bill 6, Musekamp indicated the legislation should hardly have come as a surprise to the province’s official opposition.

“Why foment all of this angst when, you, the Wildrose — Brian Jean (Wildrose Party leader) as well — know this has been an ongoing process, there’s been ongoing discussions with this government, and with the previous government. This a just a follow through of continuous ongoing consultation with the industry. That’s why the government was able to move forward so fast, 99 per cent of the work’s already been done. It’s no surprise to anyone, and no mystery. He knows that WCB is not replaceable with private insurance — even though he keeps saying that — he knows it’s not the same thing, it’s apples and oranges.”

Growing demands for ethically-sourced agricultural products amongst international consumers, according to Musekamp, will eventually leave Alberta’s agricultural industry in the proverbial dust if labour protections are not mandated in future.

“Brian Jean needs to stop using family farms as fodder for his political gain, because he’s really hurting the image of the family farm and Alberta agriculture, with industry specifically. Guys like Pepsico and Unilever and Wal-Mart are all looking at us, and they are being tainted by this. All of these major purchasers in the world want ethically-sourced supply. They don’t want child labour. They don’t want unsafe workplaces. They’re setting hard deadlines. That’s why the government picked 2017 to implement the legislation, because a great big chunk of the world market on that date is going to demand what they call sustainably sourced inputs. One of the pillars of sustainable sourcing is labour standards.”

While shameless political maneuvering on the part of the Wildrose Party may yield some capital at the polls in the short term, Musekamp concluded the protests sweeping the province will do more harm to the position of farmers than good.

“Our farmers are really hurting themselves by hollering and yipping and making it look like they’re against safety and demanding child labour, because that’s what the populace sees. This government is really doing the ag industry a favour, and the Wildrose is giving them a really nasty black eye. That’s the long and the short of it.”

5 Responses to “Bill 6 a pawn in political game by Wildrose party; Musekamp”

  1. Morgan.Wilson says:

    We’re insulted that we’re regarded as little more than slave owners and hillbillies. Oh yeah, we’re also world leaders in ag technology and produce some of the finest quality commodities on the planet. Our workers are well taken care of with very few exceptions. I would submit that many other industries have more worker exploitation even under the “protection” of labor laws and oppressive workplace safety regulations. To suggest that every moment that passes is a moment where another farm worker is unfairly exploited and put at grave risk unless we’re smothered by legislation is truly reprehensible. Our ag industry is the envy of the world, particularly in Alberta where sustainable agriculture has been practiced for generations. Now that this propaganda is being spewed by the left, it only adds to our struggles defending our fine industry. A well crafted, well consulted strategy to promote farm safety and improve labor relations could have been done without the jackboot tactics we’re seeing from the current provincial Government. I expected nothing less from the FWU as they stand to gain tremendously from the organization of labor on our farms. Using this kind of paranoid rhetoric only serves to show the hand of the Socialists. We’re not buying that bluff.

    • jiwillia says:

      The focus of the article was the purposefully disingenuous politicization of the farm and ranch employment legislation by the Wild Rose Party. Why is this all about the ranchers and the farmers? I rarely see any comments from actual employees and one of the explanations for this is that they “are scared shitless”. There has been a highly publicized series of court cases around this issue since 2006 that has pointed to these laws being changed. These cases did not arise out of nothing, and the fact that the government is acting on them is evidence of good governance, not “jack boot” tactics. If you want I can provide you with a summary of the cases that have been heard in Alberta and across the nation.

      There is ample evidence that the producer commissions and the Wild Rose party were fully aware of the pending changes and had been involved in the discussion up until November, 2015.

      The other aspect of this is that the passage of Bill 6 only makes the crafting the laws and regulations possible at all. Until the law was passed, there was no jurisdiction for the government to act. It is normal to pass enabling legislation and follow up with regulations and codes afterwards. This is also something that Mr. Jean, as a member of the Bar, should be aware of and acted accordingly.

      The reason I’m so pissed off about the farmers’ position is that if this legislation fails, and the rights of the agricultural workers are not recognized and protected in law, what is to stop a newly elected Wild Rose government from rolling back MY rights as a working Albertan? Your position is absurd and it’s time we moved on to the serious work of crafting regulations that protect workers.

  2. rebeccapennerthomson says:

    I’m going to have to disagree. Eric Musekamp does not represent the majority of farm workers in Alberta. Most workers you speak with have actually never heard of the man and he has done a terrible job of informing the people that he claims to represent.

    Our employees have every opportunity to let us know if they believe their work environment is unsafe and we welcome ideas for improvement. They are not, to quote the article you posted, “scared shitless if they so much as raise an eyebrow.” There isn’t a job on the farm that we make our hired men do that we wouldn’t do ourselves. When there is a turbine plugged, we are the ones who go into the dugout to unclog it. When the heifers are calving at 4 am, we are out helping them while our employees are at home sleeping. I don’t say this to complain because this is the job we love and have signed up for.

    Our employees take off every single one of their holidays, make nearly 2x minimum wage, receive bonuses twice a year with over 2 months of holiday time, and have housing and utilities provided along with many other benefits. These benefits are the norm on every farm that I know of in Southern Alberta.

    Musekamp suggests that farmers expect the NDP’s to speak with “every guy with seven cows and 50 chickens.” This is incorrect. The majority of farmers in Alberta simply expect that their government would create a well thought out policy for farm and safety and labor relation and at least consult with industry leaders and Ag and Labor ministers.

    The provincial Ag commissions contacted the government on a number of occasions in 2015 in an attempt to provide meaningful consultation and their input was not accepted. Premier Notley herself said the Ag and Labour Ministers weren’t even involved in creating this bill.

    On the matter of child labor and child safety; if the government was even remotely concerned about this they wouldn’t have exempted Hutterite colonies and their 22,000 members from mandatory WCB and OH&S Coverage. The amendments also exempt children and family members from WCB and occupational health and safety rules.

    This was a poorly crafted article that does little more than promote the socialist rhetoric of the unions.

    • jiwillia says:

      Most of the fears you have are, I think, a little far fetched. These same issues are being handled in Manitoba and Ontario with none of the heavy-handedness you evoke.

      The fact that your employees are well taken of speaks well to your skill as an employer. But the good intentions of employers does not save lives, nor does it guarantee protection from people with lower moral standards than yourself. A good education program, backed by stiff enforcement at the right time will save lives. This has been delayed long enough. I hope you will get involved with the producer commissions to assist the government creating meaningful and enforceable regulations.

  3. ShaunR says:

    In response to the recently published opinion piece: “Bill 6 a pawn in political game by Wildrose party; Musekamp”
    This narrow-minded manner of thinking is indicative of why the province is in such a precarious position only seven months after an election. Anyone (including Musekamp) thinking that this bill is a matter of safety needs to think a little harder. It’s about making up for the missing wcb premiums thanks to 100k+ workers being out of work, and to legally grant the government access onto private farms, ranches and similar properties or land. I find Musekamps sentiment of “workers being scared shitless” highly inaccurate and his choice of language to be patently ignorant and symptomatic of low intelligence. If he were to look beyond his own beliefs or shallow supply of experience he would find that the hired hands are the ones organizing the convoys and signing the petitions. I’m a farm worker myself and joined a dozen other co-workers from my workplace (and home) attending the convoy and town hall meeting at Okotoks. The reason there are so many people standing up against the government and bill 6 is that there are FARMWORKERS standing with the farmers and ranchers. Yes, these “unfairly treated, unprotected, vulnerable” farmworkers are fighting and spreaking against this legislation written under the guise of offering them protection, and with good reason. The bill is taking away their freedom to choose good, fair, 24/7 disability/accident/life insurance and instead forcing the purchase of a sub-par product that is notorious for its unfair practices and poor administration. Even the WCB employees do not pay into the WCB insurance program. Why would anyone voluntarily give up fair, comprehensive, affordable insurance for a company that doesn’t even have confidence in their own product?
    And as far as this bill coming close to any other legislation…it really isn’t if you take the time to consider its ramifications.
    Think about this: let’s say you lived in a gorgeous, century old grand old house that’s been passed down through your family. It’s well maintained and much of it painstakingly restored. But it’s far from modern. Now imagine the government brings through legislation that would require you to completely bring this house up to 2016 building code, enforced by arbitrary inspection, or face charges up to $500,000 per infraction. Oh and by the way, you’ll now have to insure your home and car thru the government’s notoriously expensive and unfair insurance effective immediately. And any accident would not only have financial implications but also your home would be “shut down” pending investigation.
    The promise of amendments to exempt unpaid or family workers from mandatory WCB does little to placate the concerns of farmers and ranchers. Perhaps because of Minister Sigurdson’s description of the bill being “a foot in the door.” Rather ominous words from a government claiming to have no interest in interfering with the family farm. And the implications of the bill truly are a foot in the door, to use her words. For example, a farmer who operates a small mixed farm himself but can no longer handle the work year round due to his advancing age or failing health would be forced to either shut down and sell his farm or hire a worker and attempt to comply with WCB and OHS regulations out of his own pocket.
    Farmers are very concerned about the safety of their employees and families. This is why Alberta’s agriculture industry has among the best safety records and the lowest rates or injury or fatality. Yes, some (but not all) other provinces have made some recent changes in the way of safety legislation, but these new laws are nowhere near as far reaching as the NDP’s bill 6. And BC still has far higher rates of injuries and deaths than in Alberta despite their new safety regulations and laws aimed at their agriculture industry.
    Children are already protected from exploitation in employment or domestic living situations. This bill has no intention or ability to affect or protect children thanks to their exemption in the recently promised amendments.
    Anyone who finds this acceptable, is simply not paying close enough attention, and should be concerned. They could be targeted next.

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