Despite unprecedented protest from Alberta’s farming and ranching community, Bill 6, the Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act, passed through Alberta’s legislature on December 10th, 2015. As a result, provisions such as mandatory Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) insurance, as well as basic safety standards as outlined in Alberta’s Occupational Health & Safety Act took effect January 1, 2016. The changes apply to paid employees who are non-family members. The balance of the provisions outlined in the Bill will be developed in consultation with stakeholders over the coming months.
We understand the frustration felt by producers and are committed to working with other crop and livestock boards and commissions in an effort to hold the government to its promise of allowing meaningful input regarding the development of the regulations. We look forward to working with our members, and the rest of the agricultural community, to develop industry-leading safety practices that are practical for your farming operation.
What do we know?
The Bill provides clear direction on the requirements surrounding mandatory WCB Insurance; paid workers must be covered under WCB as of January 1, 2016 but employers will have until April 30 to register with WCB. The option still exists for employers to purchase insurance to cover family members and unpaid workers.
But where there is less clarity is around how basic safety standards should be applied and will be investigated at the farm level. According to new information posted on the Alberta Government’s website employers must take reasonable steps to provide a safe and healthy workplace. This language provides farmers and ranchers with little indication as to what will be expected of them between January 1 and the time when industry specific technical standards are developed.
The government has announced that there will be consultations, led by the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. The timeline for the completion of the consultations is not fixed. The stakeholders invited to participate in these sessions must meet a set of pre-determined criteria (yet to be outlined by the Ministry) and will be limited to approximately 70 individuals. The format will be such that the Ministry will initiate six conversations or tables each consisting of approximately 10-12 stakeholders and covering a specific provision under the legislation including:
- Employment Standards
- Labour Relations
- OHS General Safety Regulations
- OHS: Best practices for safety within existing Alberta farming operations
- OHS: Unique considerations in Alberta farming operations and the interpretation of OHS farming legislation
- OHS: Relevant technical rules and the education, training resources and certification required to implement regulations.
What we are doing?
In preparation for these consultations the Crop Sector Working Group and Intensive Livestock Working Group have initiated the formation of an agriculture industry coalition which will meet in Red Deer on January 22, 2016 to discuss how to collectively approach the Government’s proposed consultations. The agenda for this meeting will allow the various commissions and associations to express the concerns and considerations of their members, as well as determine a collective strategy for the development of a made in Alberta approach to farm safety. We will also be working with other crop commissions to provide farm safety sessions for our stakeholders, re-enforcing our often repeated assertion that education is more important than legislation. We know that you have always placed the safety of your family, your employees, and yourselves as a top priority, and hope to provide you with further information and tools to use on your farm. Watch the AWC website for more information on these workshops.
Producer survey and feedback
The Alberta Wheat Commission, along with other major farm organizations, will be inviting producers to contribute to this important discussion by providing feedback on matters that relate to the implementation of Bill 6. In the coming days we will be posting a link to a survey to garner producer feedback, which will be used by the major farm organizations representing the crop and livestock sectors in making our case to the government on behalf of Alberta farmers. Visit http://svy.mk/233nWTA to fill out the survey.
The work to date
Alberta Wheat Commission and all provincial commissions have been proactive in representing the interests of farmers on the Bill 6 file. Below is a brief timeline of events:
- Prior to the election of the NDP, the PC government was talking to farm groups about removing agriculture’s exemption from the Occupational Health and Safety Code. Alberta was the only province where agriculture was exempt from OHS.
- Commission have attended a series of meetings with provincial government officials since the election and been frustrated at the lack of information shared by officials and ministers.
- Over the summer it became apparent the government was considering a more comprehensive package of changes including mandatory WCB coverage, but they refused to provide details.
- On September 1, 2015 the provincial crop commissions issued a news release asking that farmers be consulted on the possible changes in farm safety legislation (see below for all news releases issued).
- On October 8, provincial crop and livestock commissions met with government officials in Leduc where we pressed for more details on what may be included in the legislation. They would only tell us that an announcement was expected in a few weeks.
- On October 13, the board chairs and management of AWC and Alberta Canola Producers met with Hon Lori Sigurdson and requested more consultation and more details on what would be included in the legislation. She agreed to consult but was not forthcoming on the details.
- During the majority of our fall regional meetings, the provincial commissions had staff from the Occupational Health and Safety Policy and Program Development (and in some cases WCB) present information and answer producer questions about the impending legislation. These meetings were public and media were present.
- November 30, 2015 provincial crop commissions issued a joint news release urging the government to engage in proper consultation and delay passage of the legislation.
- December 4, 2015 provincial crop commissions and other Alberta farm organizations sent an open letter to Premier Rachel Notley and members of Cabinet calling on the government to suspend Bill 6 and engage in proper consultations.
January 2016 GrainsWest Magazine article –Crop Commissions Response to Bill 6
January 2016 Wheat’s Up article –Bill 6 Lacked Consultation
January 2016 Wheat’s Up article –Policy Points – Change is Among Us
AWC Press Releases Surrounding Bill 6:
Alberta farmers ready to participate in occupational health and safety consultation
AWC urges farmers to speak up on farm and ranch workers’ legislation
Alberta crop commissions urge government to seek real consultation and for farmers to speak out on Bill 6
Alberta Crop Commissions Continue to press for farmer and industry consultation in the wake of Bill 6 passing
Open Letter to Premier Notley from AB Ag Sectors