UPDATED: December 4, 2015 – 1610 CST – RED DEER — In a complete reversal, the Alberta government has announced it will exempt Hutterite colonies and their 22,000 members from mandatory Workers Compensation Board and Occupational Health and Safety coverage.
When the Alberta government announced Bill 6, the farm safety bill, documents showed Hutterite colonies would be required to follow the same safety standards and workers compensation rules as other farmers.
During a consultation meeting in Red Deer two weeks later, Alberta agriculture minister Oneil Carlier said Hutterite colonies would not be required to have mandatory workers compensation coverage because the premiums were based on salary and colony members aren’t paid a salary.
“WCB premiums are matched to what they pay. As unpaid farm workers, how can you match premiums if they are not getting an actual wage? I think there are some details to be worked out around Hutterite colonies,” Carlier told reporters after the meeting.
He also said occupational health and safety rules would not be applied to colonies.
“OHS would be a concern on Hutterite colonies. Colonies I have visited this summer all took safety as extremely important,” he said.
Later, Carlier’s press secretary, Renato Gandia, wrote in an email: “If there are no paid workers on a colony, which is the way that colonies operate, neither WCB nor OHS would apply. The only way that WCB and OHS would apply would be if there were paid employees on the colonies. This will be clarified in the amendments to Bill 6,” he wrote.
“There have been miscommunications on Bill 6, including from official channels because government was not clear about our intention and we are clarifying that now with amendments,” he added.
Because the colonies would not be covered by OHS, safety officials would not be able to investigate any fatalities or deaths on the colonies, he said.
In November, a 10-year-old boy on the Lougheed Colony died when the forklift he was driving flipped.
But the flip flop by the minister has Hutterite colony members feeling they are being singled out by the proposed changes and will pit farming neighbours against colonies.
Gord Tait, Hutterite business adviser with MNP, said the colonies have not asked for specific exemptions and said Carlier’s flip flop has created concern.
“Hutterites don’t want a special exemption. They don’t want to be pointed out,” said Tait.
After the Red Deer meeting, Tait requested the minister not single out Hutterites in his new messaging.
“We said, ‘don’t point us out, don’t single us out, don’t use our name if you don’t use anybody else’s name,’ ” said Tait before the Lethbridge consultation meeting.
Until Tait sees the proposed amendments, he can’t say how they will impact colony members.
“The colonies do not want a special exemption. The colonies are pushing the agenda that they are a great example of a family farm and they are part of agriculture and want to be treated by the rules of agriculture,” he said.
“The new rules they say are coming, we can’t wait to see them.”
In Manitoba, Hutterite colonies are exempt from WCB coverage unless there is a paid employee working on the colony.
“If you have someone hired and you are giving them money, then they are an employee,” said Warren Preece, with WCB Manitoba.
In Manitoba, there are no exemptions for colonies for occupational health and safety, said Julie DeVoin, with Manitoba Jobs.
In Saskatchewan, Hutterite colonies are not exempt from health and safety laws because they are “incorporated entities,” said Pat Parenteau, director of policy with the ministry of labour relations.
Hutterite colonies are exempt from WCB in Saskatchewan.