Alberta Hutterite colonies want exemption from farm worker compensation bill

GRANDE PRAIRIE, Alta. — Mandatory workers compensation premiums would cost Alberta Hutterite colonies more than $22 million a year, said the Hutterite business adviser with accounting firm MNP.

Gord Tait said his clients are not only concerned about the potential cost of the mandatory coverage but that it infringes on their Hutterite religious beliefs.

Tait, who is an adviser to more than 20,000 Hutterites in Alberta, said they have had no discussion with government officials on how the proposed legislation would affect colonies.

Hutterite Brethren live a communal lifestyle with communally shared property and look after their own families from birth to death.

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As a result, they don’t need workers compensation, Tait said before the first of nine farm safety consultation meetings was held in the province to discuss workplace safety legislation.

“There is a pretty strong commitment from colonies to look after everyone for their entire lives. They’ve had their own workers compensation in place for 500 years,” he said.

“Colonies have a strong commitment to provide all things to all their members for their entire life. It is a massive obligation.”

Under the proposed bill, all farms would pay workers compensation premiums based on wages paid. Colony members are not paid a salary and premiums would be based on a value of service.

Workers compensation would be unworkable with no single owner or employees, he said.

Allowing colonies to opt out of mandatory coverage would not create a double standard for colonies and other farmers, he added.

Tait said colonies may be opposed to mandatory workers compensation, but they do believe in improved safety standards.

“The colonies always support the development of increased safety and security standards to have a safe work place.”

The death of a 10-year-old boy while driving a forklift on the Lougheed Colony a week earlier was an unfortunate accident, he said.

Tait said he came to the meeting to learn how the proposed legislation would affect colonies.

“There are pretty far reaching, scary things that will be discussed here,” he said.

“They have cast a pretty big net, and it concerns us.”

Contact mary.macarthur@producer.com

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