Farm groups speak out on Alberta’s Bill 6, Alberta’s proposed farm labour changes

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 Federation of Agriculture

The federation said it has met with government officials to discuss farm safety but without detail.

“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.

All WP Bill 6 coverage here.

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, then 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 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 Occupational Health and Safety that allow investigation of farm fatalities, injuries and complaints. 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. It wants fair and consistent enforcement of the rules, and it says education and training are better options than legislation to build “a culture of safety.”

Alberta Beekeepers Commission

In a letter to premier Rachel Notley, ABC president Grant Hicks said a representative attended an Oct. 8 meeting about pending legislation but it was not a consultation and they did not have the opportunity for input.

“We were instead asked for our feelings on farm safety, what legislation changes could mean to our industry, and how the commissions and commodity groups could help roll them out,” the letter said.

Many ABC members carry WCB coverage for their employees but questions on other parts of the bill remain. In addition, “Bill 6 as proposed currently, does not truly align us with labour standards in other provinces as it claims to do.”

Potato Growers of Alberta

The PGA 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 PGA chair Ed Vandenberg.

Western Canadian Wheat Growers

The WCWG group 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.

“These changes are too important to be rammed through. Farmers must have their voices heard on Bill 6, while their MLAs should stand up for them in Edmonton and call on Premier Notley to halt this bill now and hold real consultations.”

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 amendments to Bill 6, announced last week, clarifying that mandatory Workers Compensation Coverage for farm workers, as of Jan. 1, would apply only to paid employees and that Occupational Health and Safety 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 and CEO 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 fully 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.”

Christian Labour Association of Canada

CLAC said Nov. 18 that it applauded the government initiative “to encourage a culture of safety in the farm industry and to affirm the rights of farm workers to organize.”

Alberta director Wayne Prins said all workers should be protected by basic standards that ensure safe working conditions, “and that includes the right to join and be represented by a union.”

Prins said CLAC recognized that new legislation could threaten some farms.

“We need to balance meaningful protection of agricultural workers with some recognition of the need to honour the unique characteristics and challenges that remain on family farms,” He said.

“If the outcome of the new legislation is overly costly or prohibits traditional family farm practices, like children working at a young age doing simple tasks, then we’ll have taken a step in the wrong direction.”

Alberta Milk

Mike Slomp said the group supports 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 agrees with that change to Occupational Health and Safety rules.

“We also support a requirement for farms to have baseline 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 spring time 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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