Delegates to Alberta Beef Producers are uneasy about the implications of the Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act.
The provincial government amended Bill 6 Dec. 7, promising to exclude farm and ranch owners and their families from mandatory Occupational Health and Safety rules and mandatory Workers’ Compensation Board coverage.
Mandatory coverage goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2016, said Rich Smith, manager of the beef producers, during the annual meeting held in Calgary Dec. 7-9.
The delegates were given time to discuss the issue in smaller groups and responded with common complaints.
The lack of consultation over the bill or subsequent amendments rankled many delegates who questioned why workers’ compensation was the only option since many already carry private insurance.
“We are being forced into WCB without the option of having private insurance. At our operation we have better insurance than WCB offers and we get it at a better price,” said Bryan Thiessen, whose family operates a large feedlot at Strathmore.
He also said the government has been clear about what work standards might imply.
Lorrie Jespersen of Barrhead agreed private coverage is often better because it can provide protection for employees, even if they are injured off the farm.
“WCB needs to be fixed because how many horror stories do you hear about WCB being ineffective. They actually don’t take care of a hurt worker,” he said.
Formal farm safety courses for employees are needed throughout the province. Many farm employees are inexperienced and do not have adequate training about hazards on the job.
“To give him a DVD about farm safety is negligent. We need hands on training,” he said.
Cecilie Fleming of Granum questioned the power of occupational health and safety investigators and wanted to know what kind of penalties might be assessed.
“These fines could have a huge impact on low margin businesses,” she said.
If Bill 6 passes, delegates said ABP needs to stage town hall meetings to explain its implications as provide a complete understanding of WCB coverage and OHS requirements. It also needs to collaborate with other commodity groups so a united front is presented to government when regulations are written.