Alberta farmers have asked to have their say on proposed new workplace safety rules — and the provincial government says they will now have their chance.
The NDP government is asking Albertans to give their views on two reports on proposed employment standards and labour relations recommendations. Feedback will be accepted until April 3 online, via email, or by mail.
Provincial labour minister Christina Gray said she would welcome criticisms and is open to changes.
“We want to gather as much information and perspective as possible so that any amendments will reflect the views of Albertans,” she said. “I strongly encourage Albertans to look at the recommendations and provide their honest and frank feedback.”
The reports (available at www.alberta.ca/farm-and-ranch-consultations), have been compiled from two of six technical working groups created following the controversial passing of the Enhanced Safety for Farm and Ranch Workers Act on Jan. 1, 2016. Among other things, the act made Workers Compensation Board coverage mandatory and increased Occupational Health and Safety standards for the agriculture industry.
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The employment standards report covers recommendations around hours of work, overtime, job protected leaves, holiday and vacation pay, minimum wage, youth employment, and other items. The labour relations report has recommendations related to non-family waged workers, accessing union memberships, and taking part in collective bargaining.
The four occupational health and safety working groups have not yet completed their final recommendations, but those reports will be shared for public feedback as well, said Gray.
However, the NDP government has said it will extend “the same workplace rights and legislation to our waged non-family farm workers as we see in other industries,” said Gray.
There is no timetable for implementing the regulations and Gray said her government doesn’t want to “rush things.” That’s a sharp contrast to the late-2015 launch of Bill 6, which was announced Nov. 17, passed on Dec. 10 after a series of angry town hall meetings across the province, and then enacted just three weeks later.
That rushed process “saw our government learn some tough lessons,” said Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier.
The long consultation process was part of an effort to “recognize the unique needs of employers and employees on Alberta’s farms and ranches,” he said. As well, the working groups — farmers made up roughly one-third of their membership — were “an important step in rebuilding relationships and ensuring all areas of the ag sector have a voice at the table,” said Carlier.
“The diversity of perspectives at the working groups helped strike the right balance between safety and the unique needs of the farm and ranch industry,” he said.
Like his counterpart at the ministry of labour, Carlier urged farmers to review the reports online and provide their feedback before the April 3 deadline.
“Farming is more than a job,” he said. “It’s also a way of life, and this government recognizes that.”