|Child labour debate continues|
|Local Content - Local Agriculture|
|Written by Garrett Simmons|
|Wednesday, 05 December 2012 17:06|
Many young people regularly help out on the family farm.
Scenes like a farmer’s son driving a tractor, helping collect bales or working during the busy harvest season are iconic images of what the rural, Prairie lifestyle is all about.
Those images have also served to muddy the waters of the child-labour debate on Alberta farms, according to some.
But no matter how the issue is viewed, many agree now is the time to address the dilemma.
“Child labour is getting to be an issue in a lot of areas, and maybe in southern Alberta moreso than a lot of other areas,” said Lynn Jacobson, president of the Wild Rose Agriculture Producers, at WRAP’s regional meeting last week in Taber.
Jacobson said changes coming in Alberta’s new Education Act, which will raise the drop-out age for students from 16 to 17, will make an impact, and added suspected abuse of the home-school system in southern Alberta is another issue of concern.
“Some kids are not in school and are out at 10-12 years old, and it’s become more of the problem.”
In the M.D. of Taber, with a growing population of Mennonites from Mexico and southern Alberta, the issues of child labour and schooling have long been sacred cows, and have generated much discussion among local political leaders and school-board officials.
Those discussions are continuing, and higher levels of government are also being involved.
“We met with the minister of education,” said M.D. of Taber Reeve Brian Brewin, who added the home-school issue is also getting distorted.
“It’s no education we are getting worried about, not home education.”
Brewin added home education is getting a “black eye” and in some cases, it’s not justified.
“There are some well run home school programs.”
Jacobson said with a bill coming forward to the Alberta government to stop funding private schools in the province, the issue of home schooling, and child labour will continue to be linked, as he added there are concerns which need to be addressed in southern Alberta.
“It’s a problem we’re finding more and more. We wouldn’t have our kids out working the type of hours some kids are working.”
Eric Musekamp, president of the Farmworkers Union of Alberta, said with labour legislation in Alberta, farms in the province are exempt from child-labour laws.
“It’s rooted in legislation,” he said, as he urged WRAP to be
proactive on the issue.
Gerald Third, a regional WRAP director, agreed the general farm organization needs to be in on the ground floor in discussions to create a child-labour policy here.
“It’s better for us to control the situation than have someone solve it for us,” he said of the need to help draft a plan that works for agricultural producers, before government devises a plan on its own, as he provided one example of a potential issue. “It’s not about our kids on the farm — it’s about the kids pulled out of
Musekamp added legislation should surround employment standards, not chore standards on family farms, an argument he said government officials have been using for years to stall implementation of child labour laws on Alberta farms.
Jacobson raised a motion to take the child-labour issue to WRAP’s annual meeting, and made one suggestion as to the type of rules and regulations potential legislation could include. He said Alberta could take a page from Manitoba’s policy, which requires farms and agricultural companies to fill out a permit to hire youngsters, whose hours are limited, along with the tasks they can perform.