Alberta farms will have to face issue eventually
A new year is just around the corner.
And as we prepare to flip the calendar once again, the perennial question of farmworkers' rights in Alberta will likely be asked once again.
One of the key components of that discussion in southern Alberta revolves around child labour on our farms. It has been a long-debated issue, with those firmly entrenched on both sides of the argument.
Certainly, it is a touchy subject. The Progressive Conservative government has been mindful of the interests of Alberta's farm operators and, thus far, has not yet crafted any legislation, similar to other Canadian provinces, concerning farmworkers.
The protection of family farms is often cited by government as a stumbling block to drafting child-labour laws for the agricultural sector, as for generations, youngsters have cut their teeth working alongside their fathers on the land.
Southern Alberta producers, however, and at least one farm organization with a regional branch, the Wild Rose Agricultural Producers, know one day, such legislation will be enacted here. Those same producers, at whom that family-farm argument has been targeted also know full well more direct rules on child labour would not impact the ability of their own children from fulfilling basic farm chores.
Legislation could, in fact, go a long way toward formalizing the process of who can and cannot work on farms. Age restrictions could be tied into allowable hours of work, and outline what duties youngsters should reasonably be expected to perform.
In this part of Alberta, the family farm is still a central part of day-to-day life for many but increasingly, these farms are getting larger, and more corporate in nature. With that in mind, legislation which covers child labour, and farm workers in general, will soon become much more valuable, and needed. Farm operations of this generation are much different from years ago, and require a new approach.
Changing demographics in southern Alberta also play a role, as growing numbers of Mennonites from Mexico and South American countries increase the need for more formalized legislation, and raises an issue school boards, the province and local municipalities are hesitant to address - education.
Youngsters are working on local farms, youngsters who would otherwise be in the classroom. It is impossible to pinpoint those numbers, and the majority of farm operations are careful not to employ those too young, but the link between child labour and schooling cannot be ignored, especially with a new Education Act on the which will increase the drop-out for students from 16 to 17.
Agricultural producers in Alberta must be part of the solution to this issue, and play a large role in any potential legislation which is ultimately drafted. Pressure will continue to be applied on government to usher in protection for farm workers, and child labour will need to be addressed.
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