Submitted by Will Verboven Ahead of the Heard
A column in the Calgary Herald by regular columnist, Naomi Lakritz, has taken agriculture fear mongering to new heights. The columnist wrote about farm worker rights implying that Bill 6, the legislation mandating WCB coverage for farm workers, would be repealed by a future United Conservative Party government (UCP). She is right about that – a future UCP government would repeal it, along with other NDP inspired legislation – that’s just what happens when you change governments. She implies that Alberta will then return to the dark ages with farm workers again having no rights. That is not going to happen. This is 2017, not 1917, and WCB, OHS and labour standards are here to stay; they will just be covered by new legislation that will more fairly define the rights of both farm workers and employers. Present labour legislation passed under Bill 17 features regulations that so favours one side that it poses a real threat to the viability and working culture of farming and ranching and has been a shock to the ag industry. But that is no surprise – one of the main goals of NDP governments is to change labour laws to favour the unions that prop them up.
What was rather egregious in the offending Calgary Herald column was the fear mongering angle the columnist took. Here are some quotes: “Their lives (hogs) were more important than those of the men because to the farmer they represented money.”; “…take Alberta back to those regressive days when pigs were treated better than their human caretakers.”; and “… some people must be abused, exploited, injured or killed so other people can make money.” All that maliciousness is aimed at hard-working farmers and ranchers and disparages their integrity and dignity. Clearly the columnist knows nothing about commercial agriculture and takes her cue from anecdotal stories about exceptional cases. Yes, it’s true that like any other economic sector that employees people there are bad apples in the ag industry, and horror stories exist that need to be addressed. But this is not done by painting the entire industry as being made up of evil capitalists who treat their workers like slaves. The fact is, as any successful employer in animal agriculture will tell you, their success is based on dedicated, safe and motivated workers and healthy and humanely-treated livestock. Without that approach, an ag employer wouldn’t be able to keep any employee or stay in business. The reality is that most farm and ranch owners/managers are farm workers themselves and quite understand the safety issues involved.
The offending column causes one to ponder how effective the public relations campaign has been that tries to advocate for the positive contribution agriculture makes to society. I would suggest that one such negative column in an urban newspaper can wipe out much of the positive image of animal agriculture that producers and their organizations have tried to portray for years. The column writer has written several columns about the plight of farm workers, but always with some fear mongering, and an unwillingness to look at both sides of the issue to see how things could be resolved fairly for all stakeholders. She admits to attending a union-sponsored farm worker event at the University of Calgary, which explains her biased approach. I wonder whether any producer groups have attempted to reach out to her to at least try to present the other side. For instance – did you know that statistically, farm worker accidents on commercial operations in Alberta have been declining at a faster rate than in the rest of the country, and that started prior to the imposition of the present NDP government labour legislation. I expect the columnist had no idea of that fact. Problems do remain and there are still too many accidents, especially involving farm family members and Hutterite Colonies, but progress is being made.
There is no turning back on farm worker rights; legal and constitutional repercussions will guarantee that political reality. What I expect will happen with a future UCP government is that they will carry out the common-sense negotiation process that the NDP government should have done by dealing directly with producer organizations such as the AgCoalition, the major ag industry safety group. This will result in new, realistic and innovative agriculture-related WCB/OHS legislation that will be a fair compromise to both sides. Curiously, that sounds rather like “collective bargaining”, a process a union-influenced NDP government should have been familiar with, but which seems to have escaped them when dealing with the agriculture industry on this email@example.com