Consultations begin online for replacing Alberta’s Bill 6

A three-year-old holds a protest sign ahead of a Dec. 2, 2015 meeting at Okotoks, Alta. between farmers and ranchers and Alberta’s then-ministers of labour and agriculture. (Photo: Reuters/Mike Sturk)

A new online survey and direct consultations this summer are expected to inform the new Alberta government’s plans to swap out its predecessor’s legislation on farm and ranch worker protection.

Alberta’s governing United Conservatives — who made repeal and replacement of Bill 6 a core plank of their platform before unseating the NDP government back in April — published an online survey Friday on topics covered in the legislation, including:

  • occupational health and safety (OHS) standards for farms and ranches;
  • establishing private insurance plans for farms and ranches;
  • labour relations provisions, including farm and ranch workers’ eligibility to unionize and bargain collectively;
  • employment standards relating to waged, non-family workers, and to waged, non-family youth working on farms; and
  • vacations, vacation pay and working on any of Alberta’s nine general holidays.

Along with the online survey, which will be open to the general public until Aug. 31, Agriculture Minister Devin Dreeshen said Friday he will take a “consultation tour” this summer, “meeting with farmers, ranchers and organizations across the province.”

Dreeshen, the province said Friday, has already met with “key industry leaders” and will be at events across the province this summer, “seeking input from Alberta’s farmers and ranchers.”

He and other MLAs are also expecting to “participate in grassroots conversations with Albertans” over the summer about the UCP’s proposed replacement, which it plans to call the Farm Freedom and Safety Act.

Bill 6, the NDP’s Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act, was passed in late 2015 with what the current government described Friday as “limited public input and in the face of strong opposition from farmers.”

Bill 6 had sought to set up new workers’ compensation requirements for farms, lift OHS exemptions for farm workplaces and revamp rules on labour relations and employment standards for ag workers.

The UCP, in its pre-election platform this spring, had said a replacement bill would “ensure basic safety standards” but would also “recognize that operating a farm is unlike operating a conventional business and that farmers and ranchers require much greater flexibility in meeting employment standards.”

A new bill, the UCP said at the time, will require employers to maintain workplace insurance for farm workers, but will allow employers to choose whether to buy insurance “from the market” or from Alberta’s Workers’ Compensation Board — “as long as basic standards of coverage are met for such things as medical and return-to-work support services, and protection against loss of income.”

The party also said at the time it will “exempt small farms from employment legislation, following the example of New Brunswick that exempts farms that ’employ three or fewer employees over a substantial period of the year (not including family members)’.”

Those proposals remained intact Friday in the online survey — but the survey also offers members of the public several multiple-choice options for what they’d prefer to see in such a bill.

For example, the survey asks if “small farms,” for the purpose of exemptions from employment legislation, should consist of “three or fewer waged, non-family workers” as in New Brunswick’s case. Otherwise, the survey offers the respondent the chance to suggest a number other than three.

Allison Ammeter, a farmer at Sylvan Lake, west of Red Deer, and current chair of Pulse Canada’s board of directors, said in Friday’s provincial release she “appreciate(s) that Minister Dreeshen is seeking feedback from the farm and ranch community in advance of tabling new farm safety legislation.

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

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