Alberta’s farm worker bill passes, with tweaks

A more specific version of the Alberta government’s bill to extend workers’ comp and OHS regulations to paid farm workers has cleared the legislature.

Bill 6, the Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act, passed third reading 44-29 Thursday. It received royal assent Friday, after the legislature adjourned until Feburary.

But the bill, as passed, included amendments meant to “confirm the government’s intent” to exclude farm and ranch owners and their families from the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) rules and mandatory Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) coverage.

Those provisions for family members and “non-waged individuals” in Bill 6 were meant to be set out later, in accompanying regulations, the province said in a release Monday.

However, the province said, “public concerns about whether OHS rules and WCB coverage applied to family operations required that they be stated within (Bill 6) itself, for greater clarity and certainty.”

“We are also introducing amendments to assure Albertans that neighbours can still volunteer to help each other out, without being subject to the new rules,” Labour Minister Lori Sigurdson said in the same release.

The amendments to the bill “explicitly exclude the application of WCB and OHS to owners of a farm or ranch operation, family members of the owners, and friends and neighbours who volunteer their time on the farm or ranch,” the province said.

“Only where non-owner or non-family waged individuals are involved in a farm or ranch operation will WCB and OHS apply to the operation, and only to those non-owner and non-family waged individuals.”

Also, if “waged individuals” are owners or family members of owners, the application of WCB and OHS will be “excluded as it pertains to those individuals,” the province said.

In all cases, however, farm and ranch families may elect to choose WCB coverage for waged owners, waged family members and unwaged neighbours and friends, the province said.

The bill, widely criticized at public consultations on its accompanying regulations, also came under fire Thursday in the legislature, where Wildrose leader Brian Jean criticized it as a “fundamentally flawed” law that “will cause anger throughout Alberta for many, many years.”

Calling Thursday for a six-month delay on Bill 6, Jean said it should have gone to committee before its passage, “for discussion, for input, for expert opinion and advice.”

“After saying that it’s a perfect bill and presenting it, they had to come forward with amendments to fix the problems so that they would make people partially happy,” he said, before his motion for delay was voted down.

The bill’s protections for smaller family farms, he added, “are just not good enough. Forcing farms to give up on good insurance, better insurance, and replace it with inadequate WCB coverage is a huge mistake.”

After the bill’s passage Thursday, the province’s crop commissions reiterated their disappointment with what they described as a lack of consultation and communication around the bill’s development and implementation.

“This really drives home the message that agriculture stakeholders must be properly consulted prior to the development of regulations and technical standards to ensure they protect farm workers while reflecting the unique nature of the farm sector,”  Alberta Wheat Commission chair Kent Erickson said in a release.

The commissions said the bill, as amended, is now “less focused on farm safety and more about farm labour, causing even more confusion among farmers about how it will impact their operations.”

Lee Markert, chair of the Alberta Canola Producers Commission, said in the groups’  joint release Thursday their next step will be “to compile the information and use clear language to try to explain how each pillar of this bill will affect those who work on farms across Alberta.” –– AGCanada.com Network

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