What the other provinces are doing about farm worker safety

Alberta’s Bill 6 plans to eliminate the farm exemptions on the Occupational Health and Safety Act, Workers Compensation, Labour Relations and Employment  Standards.

Legislation in the other western provinces varies when it comes to coverage and exemptions for farmers and farm workers. Below is a snapshot of what the proposed changes in Alberta look like in the other provinces.

Occupational Health and Safety

British Columbia: Every workplace that employs workers must have a health and safety program, including farms.

However, only employers that have twenty or more employees and have a workplace with a moderate to high risk of injury must develop and maintain an occupational health and safety program. An OHS program in BC must include the employer’s aims and responsibilities with respect to OHS, regular inspection schedules, written directions for employees, maintenance of statistics and records, and a regular review of OHS standards and their implementation.

The regulations include a number of conditions specific to agriculture, including barriers on manure pits, cold storage, animal handling and use of hay balers. There are no exemptions for family farms or differentiations between large and small farming operations.

All WP Bill 6 coverage here.

Saskatchewan: Regulations apply to all workplaces, including farms. The act places responsibility for health and safety on everyone who works at the workplace, including owners, workers, self-employed people, contractors and suppliers.

The level of responsibility for each of these is based on authority and control. An employer has the most responsibility to ensure health and safety standards are met.

Workers are given three basic health and safety rights.:

  • They have the right to know about the hazards of their job and how to deal with those hazards so they will not cause injury or harm.
  • They have the right to participate in health and safety education in the workplace.
  • They have the right to refuse work that they believe is unusually dangerous to themselves or others in the workplace.

A self-employed person, such as a farmer, who does not employ others, has the same responsibility under the act as both an employer and worker combined.

Manitoba: The act governs the relationship between employers and employees with regard to workplace safety and applies to all workplaces, including farms.

Every employer must ensure the safety, health and welfare of all their workers. The act gives direction on how farmers should protect those who work on a farm as well as how workers are required to protect themselves and others.

Workers Compensation

British Columbia: The act applies to all employers and workers who are engaged in paid work, although it does allow for some exemptions.

Exemptions are not based on industry (there is no exemption for agriculture), but rather duration of employment and if the employment is taking place at a private residence.

Exemptions are if a person works an average of less than eight hours a week and a person is employed for a specific job for a temporary period of less than 24 hours.

All paid workers, and the employers of those workers on all commercial farming operations, regardless of size, are included under WCB legislation. Unpaid workers, such as children and family members performing chores or assisting in seasonal activities, are not included under the legislation.

Saskatchewan: Like Alberta, the WCB manages a compensation system for workplace injuries on behalf of workers and employers. There are exemptions for certain areas, including dairy, demonstrating and exhibiting, feedlots, grazing co-ops, land clearing, fur farms, livestock brokers, mobile farm feed services or portable seed cleaning plants, pig farms, poultry farms, trapping and voluntary workers.

Manitoba: The act applies to all employers and workers in all industries. It does exempt farmers and family members of farmers from WCB regulations. A farm can be owned by a farmer or can be a family farm corporation. Family members can be a spouse or common-law partner, child, parent, sibling and other relative and a person who the farmer considers to be a close relative, whether or not they are related by blood, adoption, marriage or a common-law relationship.

The farming exemption is liberal and far-reaching and exempts close friends from coverage. This allows family members and their neighbours to work together.

Farmers can voluntarily apply for coverage for themselves and their family members.

Labour Standards

British Columbia: A farm worker is anyone employed in farming, ranching, orchards and agricultural operations who grows or raises crops or livestock, clears land, operates farm machinery or other equipment, sells any products from a farm or washes, cleans, sorts, grades or packs a product from a harvest.

Farm workers are covered by most sections of the act except minimum wage, paid wages, deduction of wages and statutory holidays. Farm workers are not entitled to overtime, but a farm work must not work excessive hours detrimental to their health.

Saskatchewan: The legislation outlines the relationship between employer and employee, including application of minimum wages, holidays and maternity leave.

The act does not apply to employees in farming, ranching or market gardening, but it does apply to those in egg hatcheries, greenhouses, nurseries, bush clearing, feedlots, confined feeding operations and commercial hog operations.

Manitoba: Parts of the employment standards code covers farm workers, while others do not. There are different exemptions for paid farm workers with no relationship to the family that owns or operates the farm and for family members being paid to work on the farm.

Paid, non-family members are not regulated by the standard hours of work requirements, overtime, general holiday and wages for reporting to work requirements.

Non-family workers are regulated by minimum wage requirements, annual vacation and vacation allowance requirements, weekly day of rest requirements, work break requirements, unpaid leave requirements, termination of employment requirements and employment of children requirements.

Paid family members are subject to only one code, which requires that employers may not discriminated between male and female employees by paying one gender more than the other for the same work.

The requirements that are applicable to paid non-family workers are not applicable to paid family workers.

Collective Bargaining

Eight provinces in Canada allow farm workers to unionize and seek collective bargaining, including British Columbia, Manitoba and Quebec. In Ontario, farm workers can associate but not collectively bargain.

Alberta’s previous exclusion for farm workers from the Labour Relations Code is considered to interfere with the Canadian Charter’s rights to associate. Several Supreme Court rulings favour expanding rights to include farm workers.

Children and Farm Work

Alberta: Prior to Bill 6, restrictions on child employment do not apply to most farm and ranch employees. Children younger than 16 must attend school during normal school hours, unless they have a special permit.

British Columbia: Workers must be 15 years old or hold a permit from the employment standards branch to work in any sector, including farm work.

Saskatchewan: Youth workers must be 16 years old to operate powered mobile equipment on a worksite or to work in areas where they may be exposed to dangerous chemicals or biological substances.

There is an exception for family farms so that the immediate family members of the farm owner are able to work on farms with no restrictions to work hours other than workers younger than 16 cannot work during school hours without the permission of the school principal.

Manitoba: Most restrictions on child employment do not apply in the agricultural sector. However, children younger than 16 cannot work during school hours without a permit. Children younger than 15 may not get such a permit. However, children who are family members of farmers are exempt from this section of the code.

SOURCE: Alberta Association of Municipal Districts and Counties’ Environmental Scan of Farm Safety Legislation.

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