New Democrats rushed ranch safety act: Opposition

New Democrats rushed ranch safety act: Opposition
Jobs, Skills, Training and Labour Minister Lori Sigurdson and Agriculture and Forest Minister Oneil Carlier (right) with Dan and Mike Kalisvaart of Kalco Farms near Gibbons on Nov. 17.Photo courtesy of the Government of Alberta.

New legislation extending workplace protections to farms and ranches needs to be put back in the stable, according to Alberta’s official opposition.

The Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act, or Bill 6, was introduced in the legislature last week.

If approved, the law would ensure that 60,000 farm and ranch workers in Alberta will have the same basic protections that other workers in the province have received for decades, according to a government press release.

“Everyone deserves a safe, fair and healthy workplace,” Minister of Jobs, Skills, Training and Labour Lori Sigurdson said. “The rules we implement must respect the unique qualities of the farm and ranch industry, and I look forward to working with industry members to develop rules that make sense.”

The New Democrat government argues it’s high time to update the rules, noting the province’s Workers’ Compensation Act, 1918, is approaching its centennial, Alberta’s first comprehensive labour relations legislation came into effect in 1938 and the Occupational Health and Safety Act was implemented in 1976.

Changes would include:

  • Ensuring farms and ranches are subject to Occupational Health and Safety legislation to prevent incidents that can result in injury or death.
  • Providing Workers’ Compensation Board insurance coverage so workers can continue to support their families if they are injured on the job, and protecting farm and ranch owners against the impact of workplace injuries and illness.
  • Including farms and ranches in Employment Standards and Labour Relations legislation.

Farm and ranch workers will be protected by the Occupational Health and Safety Act and regulations, and Workers’ Compensation Board coverage for farm and ranch workers will be mandatory beginning January 1.

Changes to Alberta’s Employment Standards and Labour Relations legislation will come into effect in the spring of 2016, following consultations with industry regarding exemptions that may be needed for unique circumstances such as seeding or harvesting.

According to the government, it will work with industry over the next year to develop detailed occupational health and safety technical rules for farms and ranches. The rules are expected to be in place in 2017.

“We know Alberta’s farmers and ranchers are concerned about providing safe and fair workplaces, and I look forward to our discussions with them as we work out the details on the best way to do it,” Agriculture and Forest Minister Oneil Carlier said.

Dippers put cart in front of horse: Wildrose

Wildrose jobs critic Grant Hunter said in a release that those consultations should already have happened.

No one in Alberta cares more about safety on family farms than the moms and dads who run them,” he said. “They are the experts and they need to have their voices heard on these important changes happening under sudden timelines. The NDP need to put this bill to committee instead of pushing it through in less than 45 days so Albertans, farmers, and industry are properly consulted.”

Wildrose had petitioned for accommodations for small family farms that would be impacted by these changes, Hunter continued, but the new legislation does not include any. The party pointed out that in British Columbia, workplace safety legislation makes a clear distinction between large operators and family farms.

A farmer himself, Wildrose agriculture critic Rick Strankman said education is key to making farms safer.

“Farmers are the most passionate about ensuring farms stay safe, but more can be done to provide education for families and small operations,” Strankman said. “Nothing can be more effective and ensure real positive changes occur on farms across Alberta.”

Liberal Leader David Swann, on the other hand, was unabashed in his support of the bill.

“Opposition to this bill is opposition to a farm worker being able to refuse unsafe work, it is opposition to any minimum wage whatsoever for farm workers, it is opposition to restrictions on child labour, it is opposition to requiring proper safety training before doing a new task, and it is opposition to the protections of WCB for farm workers and farm owners,” he said, also in a press release. “The days of a legal framework that would make Charles Dickens blush will at long last come to an end in Alberta. It is a great day indeed.”

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