Farmworkers union continuing WCB push PDF Print
Local Content - Local Agriculture
Written by Stan Ashbee   
Wednesday, 21 November 2012 17:44

It’s just a matter of wait and see for Eric Musekamp, president of the Farmworkers Union of Alberta (FUA).
Musekamp wants an extension of mandatory worker’s compensation paid to farmworkers so that these costs and more are paid for by the agriculture industry through the Worker’s Compensation Board (WCB) and not paid for by taxpayers through Alberta Health Services (AHS).
Through recent letters, Musekamp has contacted Fred Horne, the health and wellness minister and Heather Forsyth, the official opposition health critic regarding the issue. Musekamp has also spoke with the NDP and the Liberal party regarding this issue.
In the letter to Horne, Musekamp wrote it is a burden placed upon the health ministry by virtue of the lack of workplace health and safety legislation and the absence of WCB coverage in the Alberta agriculture industry. The letter asks for Horne to support Alberta Premier Alison Redford in the effort to include agriculture in Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) and mandatory WCB.
“I want the matter raised as I think that it’s proper for the industry to pay for these costs rather than us,” said Musekamp.
The letter to Forsyth discussed the costs borne by AHS to treat injured farmworkers and indicated the cost borne by AHS identified by Bob Barnetson, associate professor, labour relations for the Centre for Work and Community Studies program at Athabasca University.
“The FUA asked me if I had reliable estimates of the health care costs associated with farm injuries. Specifically, they wanted to know whether I knew what costs were being passed onto the health care system by farmers who did not have WCB. Under WCB, the health care costs are billed back to the WCB and eventually passed onto employers. Farmers do not have WCB, thus health care costs associated with uncovered injuries are transferred or externalized from farmers onto taxpayers,” said Barnetson.
The letter asked that Forsyth support the extension of mandatory WCB for injured farmworkers, as well.
Barnetson provided Musekamp with a rough estimate regarding medical costs with agricultural injuries in Alberta, according to a letter received by Musekamp from Barnetson.
“We asked Bob if he could do a calculation of what the cost transferred to the health system is from agriculture because there is no worker’s compensation coverage for most of the farmworkers,” said Musekamp.

In the letter, Barnetson mentioned it is difficult to provide accurate costs because the data is spotty on injuries, injury costs, number of workers, etc. Based on 2011 WCB data, there were 2825 workers on 1300 “farming operations” covered by worker’s compensation in Alberta.

“Farming operations” exclude apiaries, feedlots, greenhouses, etc. but “farming operations” seemed to encompass the largest group of agricultural workers so Barnetson said he used that data.
Barnetson used many variables in determining the calculations. The estimated total came to $4,821,000 in medical costs per year. Barnetson mentioned in the letter, at present worker’s compensation pays $227,000 in medical aid costs so Barnetson took that amount of the estimated total to get $4,594,000 in annual injury costs. It was stated, this $4,594,000 is the medical costs from agricultural workplace injury paid for by Alberta Health and individual workers each year. Barnetson also noted in the letter, this is a cost transferred from industry (which would otherwise pay for it via WCB premiums) to the taxpayer and workers, as worker’s compensation insurance is not mandatory in agriculture.
“I eventually got around to estimating the costs based on WCB data about the few farmers who do have WCB coverage and StatsCan data on the number of farmers. The result is the $4.5 million estimate I provided the FUA. This is a conservative estimate, as I noted in the letter. Of particular note is that it focuses almost exclusively on injuries and largely excluded occupational disease costs,” said Barnetson.
“There is no good reason to exclude farmers from either OHS or mandatory WCB coverage. The exclusions reflect political pressure from farmers to deprive farm workers of basic workplace rights and statutory entitlements in order for the Conservatives to secure rural votes. There is no other plausible reason for exempting one of Canada's three most dangerous industries from regulation that affects virtually every other industry,” Barnetson added. “The benefits of OHS and WCB are well known, that is why every other employer in Alberta is covered by them. How much longer is the government going to stall on providing farm workers with the protections that every other Alberta employer has? How many more farm workers have to die? And how many more of their families have to go hungry before the Redford government follows through on its promise to protect farm workers?”
Musekamp added he has confirmed Forsyth has received the letter he sent and that he hand delivered the letter to the health minister in which Musekamp has had additional discussions with as well.
“The legislature sits again this week and I hope the NDP, the Liberals and the Wildrose will raise the issue before the House and during the course of this week I will again reach out to the health minister, the employment minister and the agriculture minister, as well, about this issue and ask them to address it,” said Musekamp. “There wasn’t really any particular trigger to this. We’ve been in touch with a farmworker who was injured some years ago and was denied worker’s compensation coverage and she’s going to provide some data to the minister with respect to her personal issue. From what we understand health care has covered almost $200,000 for this one particular worker. We’re going to bring her case forward to the minister so that she can give a concrete example of what we’re talking about.”

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