Forget Mad Cow. Mad Minister’s Disease Threatens BC Farms
hearing a lot about Mad Cow Disease these days, but I’m more worried
about the emergence of another disease. I’m talking about that recent
and alarming epidemic of Mad Minister’s Disease in Victoria.
think that a recent decision in Victoria, taken by a pair of ministers obviously in
the grips of something pathological, has already poisoned the
body politic with structural racism and inequality. The Minister of
Agriculture, John von Dongen, and the Minister of Labour, Graham Bruce,
have, at the stroke of a regulatory pen, stripped away Employment
Standards Act protections from the province’s farmworkers. These are
workers who are already amongst the lowest paid and most frequently
injured in the province.
decision is structurally racist in that it singles out a group made up
almost entirely of brown-skinned immigrant workers. It spreads the
poison of inequality by taking protections away from these visible
minority workers, protections that are enjoyed by almost everyone else
in the work force.
new deal took effect on May 16. That was the Friday of a long weekend,
and the day after the ministers buried the news in an announcement
seemingly released to coincide with the news lull that always occurs
during such a holiday. A cynic might think the ministers wanted to make
a sweetheart deal with the agriculture industry and then hide it from
the public. A more charitable view is that the odd timing is just
another symptom of their disease.
it reflects symptoms or political calculation, the deal removes
Employment Standards Act protections on overtime, hours of work and
statutory holiday pay from all the province’s farm workers.
the ministers’ release announced the changes under a headline about
“protecting” farmworkers. Clearly, George Orwell’s Big Brother is now
writing copy for the BC Liberals!
real meat of the release, the removal of farmworkers from the act, was
buried at the bottom of the second page, after a lot of fluff about
continued farm inspections--by a team of only three inspectors for the
entire province--and education programs to remind farm employers that
they really do need to pay their workers the wages due them. Let’s get
real here, ministers. You don’t protect workers by stripping away
hard-won regulatory protections; instead, you make it easier for
unscrupulous employers to rip them off.
Mad Cow Disease, the animal staggers in circles and makes unpleasant
sounds, then falls down and dies. With Mad Minister’s Disease,
similarly, the infected politician staggers in circles and makes all
the symptomatic ugly noises, (mooing “competitiveness,” “flexibility,”
“profits”). But it’s the constituents, not the minister, who are in
danger in an outbreak of Mad Minister’s Disease. The infected minister
just keeps on making staggeringly stupid and cruel policy decisions.
most recent Victoria decision will increase the sometimes lethal
stress and dangers that farmworkers face in their work. Uncontrolled
overtime is bound to lead to more injuries and deaths in agriculture.
However, to be fair, it will increase profits for the folks who
own greenhouses, berry farms, dairies and other forms of agribusiness
across the province. This may, in fact, be the main point of the
exercise. Meanwhile the 25,000 workers involved are already amongst the
poorest in the province. This looks to me
like Mad Minister’s Disease at its worst.
may be time to consider quarantine measures for Ministers von Dongen and
Bruce and the entire Liberal Caucus herd. Since the ministers see
unlimited hours of high-stress farm labour without paid overtime or
stat holidays as “protection,” perhaps the caucus could be protectively
quarantined--maybe in a berry field or greenhouse this season.