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October 24, 2016
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v2.1 Reference

Farm Workers in Western Canada

Injustices and Activism

Bill 6, the government of Alberta's contentious farm workers' safety legislation, sparked public debate as no other legislation has done in recent years. The Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act provides a right to work safely and a compensation system for those killed or injured at work, similar to other provinces.

In nine essays, contributors to Farm Workers in Western Canada place this legislation in context. They look at the origins, work conditions, and precarious lives of farm workers in terms of larger historical forces such as colonialism, land rights, and racism. They also examine how the rights and privileges of farm workers, including seasonal and temporary foreign workers, conflict with those of their employers, and reveal the barriers many face by being excluded from most statutory employment laws, sometimes in violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Contributors: Gianna Argento, Bob Barnetson, Michael J. Broadway, Jill Bucklaschuk, Delna Contractor, Darlene A. Dunlop, Brynna Hambly (Takasugi), Zane Hamm, Paul Kennett, Jennifer Koshan, C.F. Andrew Lau, J. Graham Martinelli, Shirley A. McDonald, Robin C. McIntyre, Nelson Medeiros, Kerry Preibisch, Heidi Rolfe, Patricia Tomic, Ricardo Trumper, and Kay Elizabeth Turner.

About the Authors

Shirley A. McDonald teaches at UBC Okanagan. Her research interests combine literature, Canadian history, and life writing. Bob Barnetson is a professor of labour relations at Athabasca University. His research centres on the political economy of employment regulations.


"The book's subtitle — Injustices and Activism — captures the two main themes it explores: the horrible exploitation that many farm workers endure, and the efforts they and their supporters have made to organize for reforms. This book represents a compelling argument that those of us who depend on the life-supporting work done by Canadians and temporary foreign workers on Canadian farms ought to support their efforts to unionize and their insistence that existing safety regulations should be enforced more aggressively." [Full article at]—Tom Sandborn, Vancouver Sun

"Am currently reading 'Farm Workers in Western Canada: Injustices and Activism' and am absolutely convinced that the Farm Safety Enhancement Bill was the morally right decision to provide safety, protection and compensation for farm families and workers... In time Bill 6 may become recognized as one of [Alberta's] best, progressive pieces of legislation."—Bruce Hinkley, Wetaskiwin-Camrose MLA, Wetaskiwin Times

"The nine essays in this volume show how dynamics such as global agribusiness concentration have made meat processors and farm workers vulnerable to low-wage, unhealthy and dangerous jobs. This timely book thus underscores why legislated worker rights are crucial... Interspersed throughout the book are first-hand accounts from the pesticide applicators and carcass disassembly lines. Candid stories from Alberta farm worker Darlene Dunlop's 15 years of activism are particularly memorable.... Several chapters on migrant workers in BC, Manitoba and Alberta powerfully illuminate the barriers faced by racialized, non-citizen workers in exercising their rights... While the struggle for justice in Canadian fields and factories is unfinished, this book reminds us of workers' perseverance despite grinding indignity."—Anelyse Weiler, Alberta Views

"One of the greatest strengths of this book is its emphasis on unsettling a series of longstanding myths about agriculture in western Canada.... In the second half of the book, the contributors continue to explore the role of government policies and racialization in other agricultural sectors and provinces... A particular strength of the book is its focus on understanding the hierarchical, classed, and racialized nature of farm labour..." [Full review at]—Rachel Herron, Labour/Le Travail

"Readers interested in examining the topic of agricultural labor on the northern Great Plains will find Farm Workers in Western Canada to be particularly valuable.... Readers who desire a multidisciplinary approach to the topic will be especially satisfied. The book's contributors represent a diverse variety of areas of expertise including sociologists, labor relations specialists, and legal professionals. These authors employ a variety of approaches while examining the contested farm labor issue across the diverse landscapes of western Canada.... Editors Shirley A. McDonald and Bob Barnetson have succeeded greatly in assembling a collection of essays that provide fresh insights in understanding the plight of those who work in hazardous conditions to provide food for an ever-growing global population." [Full review at]—Derek S. Oden, Great Plains Research

"McDonald and Barnetson's collection is an important contribution to our understanding of the multitude of factors that constitute the industrial agriculture food system. Their interdisciplinary approach examines the historical, legal, and current issues facing farm workers from British Columbia to Manitoba. While the legal route may be the simplest solution to solving these problems, this volume clearly shows that many forces and levels of government are at work exploiting these workers." [Full review at:]—Nick Fast, BC Studies


"It will eternally be to Alberta's shame that it took so long for the province to protect its farm workers with occupational health and safety legislation and employment standards laws. Successive Tory governments had blood on their hands, as Bob Barnetson and Shirley A. McDonald so eloquently portray in the book they've co-edited, Farm Workers in Western Canada: Injustices and Activism... The story of Alberta's farm workers has cried out to be told for a long time. This hugely important book has done that story justice."—Naomi Lakritz


9781772121384 : farm-workers-in-western-canada-mcdonald-barnetson-broadway
Paperback / softback
256 Pages
$32.99 USD

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