With harvest just around the bend, a quick decision by Saskatchewan Occupational Health and Safety has squelched an issue that had been stirring widespread debate surrounding child labour laws on family farms.
The department will permit the owners of Cool Springs Ranch and Butchery near Endeavour, Sask., to have their children younger than 16, continue to work at the family run operation.
Janeen and Sam Covlin raise, process and sell beef, pork, chicken, turkey and eggs.
They process and package their products in a small meat processing facility on the farm.
It’s legal for children to help on a family farm, but the law prevents children younger than 16 from working in a food processing plant.
After receiving a complaint from a source outside the farm, an OHS officer visited the farm Aug. 5 and said two of Covlin’s children and a third child from a neighbouring family were in violation of the law.
Janeen voiced her frustration on her Facebook page the same day.
“This just went crazy. I couldn’t believe it. I was just venting and I got so much support,” she said. “The thing that upset me the most was that my own kids wouldn’t have been able to work here.”
“The kids are just very integral on our farm, which is what we want. We want them to grow up feeling that there are options of how to make a living on a farm. Which is generally not encouraged,” she said.
She said she was told that her children were not allowed inside the processing facility.
“What am I supposed to do with them when I’m supposed to work — to park them all in front of a computer or hire a babysitter to sit here? It just seemed crazy.”
The Saskatchewan government then stepped in.
“We’re going to treat this as an extension of the family farm. For the immediate family members, they don’t require a permit or anything else. They can continue to work,” Don Morgan, provincial labour minister, said Aug. 8.
He said the Covlins’ children are allowed to work in any of the farm’s operations, but the Covlins are no longer able to hire other children younger under 16 to work in the processing plant.
“What we’ve decided to do here is just take a commonsense approach and say this is part of a family farm operation. We’re treating it as a family farm,” Morgan said. “We’re going into harvest time and the message we want to get to everybody is rather than look at regulations, look at safety. Pay attention, use equipment carefully and wisely.”