Farmers say nix to Bill 6

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December 1, 2015 12:37 PM

Alberta's new Bill 6 would put farm workers under the Occupational Health and Safety act and force employers to pay into the Worker's Compensation Board as early as Jan. 1, 2016. Many Alberta farmers, like Todd Hames pictured above, would like to see the government slow the process down and do more consultation with industry before implementing any changes.

Farmers say they’re angry and confused about proposed provincial legislation that is, ostensibly, meant to protect farm workers.
The government of Alberta recently announced a new bill that would affect the operations of ranchers and farm workers in the province, and the legislation is feeling some strong resistance.
Announced Nov. 17, the Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act, or simply Bill 6, would make sure farm workers are subject to Occupational Health and Safety laws and give them Workers Compensation Board insurance.
The new bill was written to make farm work safer and give workers insurance coverage in case of an accident or death.
But because of how soon the legislation would take effect, and lack of public input considered before coming up with the bill, many farmers in the province want to see it delayed.
“It’s very disappointing to see the government rushing through legislation without consultation with the farmers about how this legislation will affect their farms,” said Todd Hames, a grain and oil seed farmer from Marwayne.
Hames employs between one and five people on his farm depending on the season and thinks the government should put the brakes on Bill 6 until a more reasonable solution can be formed.
“The transparency of this government, for a government that talked about a lack of transparency in the previous government, this is totally offside in how transparent it is,” he said.
One of the big kinks in the bill is how it’s caused confusion on how it will affect neighbours helping out on each other’s family farms.
Garth George, who farms grain and cattle, also out of Marwayne, said his top worker is a neighbour whose land they also sometimes help operate.
One of his concerns is whether or not they’d have to take out coverage on each other and how that would work.
Little information has been offered by the government so George contacted the Worker’s Compensation Board for some answers, but they also had little to offer, he said.
“I’ve made a few phone calls to workman’s comp to talk to them and see what they say and they don’t really know what to do because the legislation hasn’t even been passed down to them yet,” George said.
The Alberta government put out a news release on Nov. 29, trying to calm any anxious minds, and though the message was reassuring, exact details were vague.
“I’ve been listening to Albertans about what Bill 6, the Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act, will mean for their family farms,” said Lori Sigurdson, minister of Jobs, Skills, Training and Labour, in the written statement.
“These customary parts of farm life will go on as before, while enhancing protections for employees.
“Our legislation allows us the flexibility to develop common-sense regulations to achieve this goal.”
When the bill was announced, however, it said that protection under OHS and Compensation Board coverage would be mandatory starting Jan. 1, 2016.
Over the following year consultations with industry would take place where amendments and exemptions would be suggested to tailor the new regulations to farming’s unique ways of operating.
What that means during the interim still has people concerned though.
“It’s going to be those standards for the first year and what that means exactly,” said Hames.
“If there’s going to be any enforcement, it’s going to make criminals out of farmers.”
As it stands, most farmers don’t have policies and procedures for safety written on paper as they are passed along verbally or just ingrained from generations of farming.
Operations like George’s farm conduct safety meetings informally every morning over coffee.
Issues like these make Hames ask the question, “Are we offside because we don’t have the proper paperwork done?”
And with between nearly 50,000 farms in the province, who would do the policing?
The amount of inspectors it would take to make sure every farm is up to par, and the dollars it would take to pay them, cause farmers like Hames to think the Jan. 1 deadline is unrealistic.
Richard Starke, PC MLA for Vermilion Lloydminster, agrees a better approach might be to slow the process down.
Starting with the broader areas of the agreement among farmers and the way in which they operate, working out the bugs in those areas, then moving on might be better then passing a bill with one sweep of the hand.
“Start only with those areas of broad agreement where there’s a broad consensus that these laws would apply and are clearly applicable,” he said.
“I have been asking this government to slow this process down, to allow farmers to have a more fulsome conversation about this piece of legislation and to communicate with government as to how it will affect them and their farming operations”

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