Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Column
Tuesday March 13, 2007
By BILL TIELEMAN
Partnership Agreement helps protect farm workers ... Effective tomorrow, farm workers are excluded from hours of work, overtime and statutory holiday pay.
The B.C. Liberal government should hang its head in shame for systematically attacking rules and regulations that protect farm workers.
Instead, and despite last week's horrific vehicle accident that killed three women farm workers, the Liberals deny the obvious - that their actions in support of farmers and farm labour contractors are directly related to this tragedy.
With the enthusiastic backing of the B.C. Agricultural Council, representing the farming industry, Premier Gordon Campbell's government has weakened previous protections for farm workers in almost every possible way.
One of the most misleading and outrageous actions was a Partnership Agreement signed between the government and the Council in May 2003 that resulted in what the Council called "Positive Changes in Employment Standards Act Regulations" in a memo to members.
Those "positive changes" include allowing child labour - letting 12 to 15-year-olds to work with only parental permission; removing farm workers from hours of work, overtime and statutory holiday pay provisions; and reducing by up to 75 per cent the bonds labour contractors are forced to post to ensure workers are paid.
Of course, it was a farm labour contractor with a history of violations whose overloaded van crashed last week, killing the three workers.
RHA Enterprises Ltd. had previously been found to have operated without a farm-labour contractor licence. They are currently licensed.
But the agreement between government and farmers states that: "The B.C. Agriculture Council and its member organizations agree that they will not support or condone the utilization of unlicensed farm labour contractors."
Rainbow Greenhouses in Chilliwack, where the farm workers were headed when the tragic accident occurred, is listed as one of "our growers" on the website of the United Flower Growers Co-operative Association, which signed the Partnership Agreement.
What's more, RHA Enterprises Ltd. has also been found to have failed to keep proper records and failed to register a vehicle in 2005. The company was fined $500 per violation.
B.C. farm-labour contractor vehicle accidents are all too common - and avoidable if basic safety rules were followed.
On July 13, 2003, farm worker Mohinder Kaur Sunar was killed when the van she was going to work in, carrying 19 people, had a tire blow out and crash on the Trans-Canada Highway.
A coroner's report said the government should review the Motor Vehicle Act, in particular to clarify the rules surrounding the use of seatbelts for passengers in vans and buses. WorkSafe BC said the same thing.
But it wasn't done. And once again, the provincial government's refusal to protect farm workers means more lives lost.