UFCW Canada calls for inquest after farm workers killed at work

UFCW Canada National President Wayne Hanley has called for a coroner’s inquest into the deaths of two Jamaican migrant agriculture workers, Ralston White and Paul Roache, who died from toxic fumes while working in a confined space vat on September 10, at an apple orchard and processing facility near Owen Sound, Ontario.

In a letter sent to Dr. Andrew McCallum, the Chief Coroner of Ontario, the national president wrote, “we expect an inquest would bring much needed awareness, and provide solid recommendations regarding confined space regulations and other serious safety issues currently excluded under the legislation as it applies to agricultural operations.”

Since 2006, Ontario agriculture operations have been covered by the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA), but the Liberal McGuinty government continues to exempt farms from enforcement regulations regarding enclosed spaces, such as the industrial apple cider vat where the victims of the September 10 tragedy were found.

The call for a coroner’s inquiry was also delivered to Ontario’s Minister of Labour, when UFCW Canada activists and community allies staged a protest at Liberal MPP Peter Fonseca’s ministry office on September 24.

Fonseca was also pursued at the Ontario Legislature during Question Period on September 28, when NDP labour critic Cheri DiNovo asked Fonseca if he would join the call for a coroner’s inquest. He did not — while proclaiming his ministry had aggressively increased its safety inspections of Ontario agriculture operations.

But recent data released under a Freedom of Information request from UFCW Canada shows just a small percentage of those inspections were of farm operations.

Far more inspections of the so-called “agriculture sites” were actually conducted at veterinary clinics and animal shelters. “The data suggests the McGuinty government cares more about pets than people,” says National President Hanley.

“The Ministry’s focus on vet clinics sends a very peculiar message to the tens of thousands of Ontario agriculture workers whose workplaces have never been inspected, and certainly does nothing for the families of Ralston White and Paul Roache,” Hanley said.

“Could their deaths have been prevented if real safety regulations were enforced on Ontario farms? That’s the question for the coroner, and a question the Liberal McGuinty government would rather avoid.”

Vol. X No. 39 • October 4, 2010