Bill 6 draws varied reaction from farm groups

Most groups want government to slow down in its efforts to pass farm worker safety legislation, but some support bill

Many agricultural and rural groups in Alberta have issued public responses to Bill 6, the Alberta government’s Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act. Here is a summary of their views.

Alberta Pork

Pork producers agree with the government’s goal to improve worker and workplace safety but they want more details on what Bill 6 will entail, said communications co-ordinator Geoff Geddes.

“We need some clarification and consultation. Let’s sit down and talk about it. We’re both on the same page in terms of the importance of it and of the need for it, but let’s just sit down and talk about it and make sure that it reflects the current situation out there.”

Geddes said Alberta Pork has discussed safety with the previous provincial government and this one, and emphasizes it at its meetings. The diversity of the industry, including large representation from Hutterite colonies, must be recognized, he added.

“With colonies, it’s a family business. They have a lot of family that are working at the barns. That’s part of the nature of our industry, something that’s a little bit unique and again reflects the diversity of our industry.

Alberta Federation of Agriculture

The federation said it has met with government officials to discuss farm safety in general, but did not get into specifics.

“Specific information relating to Bill 6 was not shared with AFA prior to the announcement of plans to bring agriculture under OHS legislation and WCB regulation on Nov. 17. While that is not unusual, we had hoped for a more robust consultation prior to the legislation being announced,” the AFA said Dec. 4.

The federation welcomes some of the proposed changes but noted the speed of implementation and unclear communication about the scope of legislation caused frustration.

It has posed numerous questions to government about each segment of the four-part omnibus bill. Among those it notes that “applying OH&S legislation only to operations with one or more paid workers means a majority of farm family fatalities/serious injuries would be exempt from investigation, and according to Canadian Agricultural Injury Reporting, injuries and death are most frequent among owners, than family members, then paid employees.”

It proposed that the legislation be deferred by at least one year, until 2017, to allow producers to plan and budget for changes.

Alberta crop commissions

The Alberta wheat, pulse, canola and barley commissions issued a joint release Nov. 30 urging the government “to seek real consultation and for farmers to speak out on Bill 6.”

They called on the government to delay implementation of the legislation and extend consultation.

Alberta Wheat Commission chair Kent Erickson said the commissions have always suggested education is a better way to enhance safety than is legislation.

Alberta Barley chair Mike Ammeter said expected discussions between government and farm groups did not take place. Alberta Pulse Growers chair Allison Ammeter said the current process “is causing fear and uncertainty to grasp the industry.”

National Farmers Union

NFU women’s vice-president Toby Malloy said in a Dec. 4 news release that Alberta farmers, ranchers and farm workers “deserve the safety net of insurance coverage that is already legislated in other provinces.”

Malloy said the labour intensive work of farming lends itself to repetitive tasks, risks and hazards, which in turn can lead to injury. Insurance coverage gives injured workers a better chance of recovery, a stable income and access to care. It can also reduce stress on farm families and preserve mental health.

Alberta Beef Producers

ABP said it accepts the Bill 6 changes to OHS, which allow investigation of farm fatalities, injuries and complaints, but it does not support mandatory Workers Compensation Board coverage.

“We support a requirement for insurance coverage for employees but believe that farmers and ranchers should have the option of selecting the most appropriate insurance for their employees,” said ABP.

It also wants to help ensure employment standards reflect the unique nature of farm and ranch work.

Potato Growers of Alberta

The PGA said many of its farmer members offer WCB coverage to employees and operate under safety protocols. It supports the bill’s intentions to create a safer work environment and said education is key to improvement.

“We are encouraging the government to work with the agricultural community in formulating these changes rather than implementing something that will jeopardize the ability of Alberta’s farms to plant and harvest theirs crops and deliver them to the consumer,” said chair Ed Vandenberg.

Western Canadian Wheat Growers association

The WCWGA asked the premier Nov. 30 to “halt the rapid movement of Bill 6 through the legislature and send it to committee for study and real consultation with Alberta farmers.”

Vice-president Stephen Vandervalk said farmers have not been properly consulted, and proposed changes need to be studied.

Secretary-treasurer Matt Sawyer said the changes are being made at “warp speed” but there are many unanswered questions on the bill’s implications.

“Taking a pause and consulting Alberta farmers and ranchers before passing it so quickly is the reasonable and right thing to do,” said Sawyer.

Alberta Association of MDs and Counties

The association sent a letter to jobs, skills, training and labour minister Lori Sigurdson outlining the need for government to work with the farming and ranching community on the legislation.

“The AAMDC has asked for additional time to be devoted to the consultation period to ensure Albertans and the Government of Alberta fully understand the impacts this legislation could have on small and family run farms,” it said Dec. 2.

The association acknowledged the amendments to Bill 6, which were announced last week. They clarified that mandatory Workers Compensation Coverage for farm workers, as of Jan. 1, would apply only to paid employees, and that OHS rules would apply to farms with one or more paid employees.

“The announcement of amendments to the bill was a partial win. However, we still would like to see the process slowed down and further consultations added. On this issue specifically, it is crucial that the rural voice be continually heard and recognized in this province, even if it is diverse,” it said.

Western Feedlots Ltd.

President Dave Plett issued a news release Nov. 26 that emphasized existing farm business protection of farm workers and called Bill 6 a “Pandora’s box” that “appears to be an attempt to regulate and standardize employment benefits for agriculture’s highly irregular work environment.”

Plett said the government should be applauded for bringing the matter forward, but it should engage the agricultural community before proceeding with passage and implementation.

“Producers are only now beginning to comprehend what is being proposed in Bill 6. The needed information has not been provided, nor the time to study, evaluate and contribute in a meaningful way as to how to design and support an effective solution.”

Alberta Milk

Mike Slomp said the group supports the government’s desire to make farms safer, and it was expecting legislative changes.

“What came down is a lot more than any of us expected.”

Slomp said Alberta Milk agrees that serious injuries and fatalities on farms should be investigated, so it supports the change to Occupational Health and Safety rules.

“We also support a requirement for farms to have base line insurance coverage for employees, but we do not support mandatory workers compensation. Some of our farmers have told us that a number of them have 24/7 private insurance, which they believe and their employees feel is superior because it covers them on days off and weekends.”

Slomp said more consultation is needed on employment standards and the labour code.

“Cows have to be milked twice a day, 365 days a year. How does that reality, along with seeding in springtime and silaging in between rain storms, fit into hours of work?

“We have never had that conversation and neither has the government with any farm group.”

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