Producers and their farm workers urged to take workplace safety survey

The new government wants views and suggestions before introducing the Farm Freedom and Safety Act

Farmers, ranchers, and their workers are being asked by the provincial government what they would like to see in new farm workplace safety legislation.

The United Conservative government says it plans to introduce the Farm Freedom and Safety Act this fall “to put choice back in the hands of farmers and have legislation that reflects the uniqueness of this sector.”

The online survey, which is open until Aug. 31, is soliciting producers’ and workers’ views on four areas — employment standards, occupational health and safety, workers’ compensation and labour relations — the government said in a news release. For employment standards, it wants respondents to “explore flexibility on rules like hours of work, holiday and vacation pay, days of rest, minimum wage and youth employment.” It also wants to know if producers want the option of buying private insurance instead of mandatory Workers’ Compensation Board coverage — although the government has already pledged to give producers a choice of who they buy insurance from.

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The survey also looks at issues such as farm and ranch workers’ eligibility to unionize and bargain collectively; working on stat holidays; and “special requirements” when it comes to safety standards.

A link to the survey can be found at www.alberta.ca — search for ‘Farm Freedom and Safety Act’ and then click on the link within the news release.

Agriculture Minister Devin Dreeshen is also on a “consultation tour” this summer, attending events to meet with farmers and ranchers as well as speaking with leaders of farm groups.

The new Farm Freedom and Safety Act will replace the Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act passed in 2015 by the previous NDP government. The former act “was passed with limited public input and in the face of strong opposition from farmers,” the news release states.

A three-year-old child holds a protest sign at a December 2015 meeting in Okotoks when Alberta’s then ministers of labour and agriculture met producers in a bid to quell the controversy over the NDP government’s new workplace safety legislation.
photo: Reuters

The consultations were praised by Sylvan Lake farmer and Pulse Canada chair Allison Ammeter.

“We all value farm safety and employee protection, but recognize we are a unique work environment with unique requirements,” she said in the government news release. “I appreciate our collective voice will be heard by the government while crafting this bill.”

Prior to the election, the United Conservatives also promised to exempt operations with three or fewer non-family employees from the legislation, as is done in New Brunswick. That proposal is part of the online survey — but it also offers respondents the chance to suggest a number other than three.

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