Packed house airs Bill 6 gripes


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December 8, 2015 11:56 AM

Hundreds of folks from miles around crammed the Vermilion Senior's Centre Saturday to hear more about Bill 6 and to talk about concerns they have about the controversial bill that would force workers' compensation and occupational health and safety regulations on Alberta farms.

More than 300 people filled the hall at the Vermilion Senior’s Centre on the weekend to voice concerns and ask questions about new legislation that will affect farms across Alberta.
The meeting, held Dec. 5 and organized by PC MLA Richard Starke (Vermilion-Lloydminster), was a way to give concerned citizens a voice after many of the government meetings on the issue became fully booked.
“The information on this piece of legislation has been very confusing and it seems to be changing on a day-to-day basis and, in my opinion, in my relatively limited experience in politics, anytime you’re changing the rules in the middle of something, that should tell you something,” Starke said.
What that something is, according to Starke, simply means there’s a fundamental problem with the bill, which is a part of the reason the MLA has been vocal in opposing the Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act since it’s proposal.
Starke said while Bill 6 itself looks relatively harmless on paper, it’s what’s called “enabling legislation” in which the devil is in the details.
The bill removes a longstanding exemption for farm and ranch workers from four other pieces of legislation that enforces labour and unemployment standards in Alberta.
The four pieces of legislation are the Employment Standards Code, the Workers’ Compensation Act, the Occupational Health and Safety Act, and the Labour Relations Code.
The bill would bring workers’ compensation and occupational health and safety regulations to Alberta farms.
So while Bill 6 may not be a huge complex document, it subjects farming operations to four other areas of legislation that when combined, make for hefty amounts of new rules and regulations.
Starke, who also works as a veterinarian, gave examples of problems that could arise from such legislation.
“What does this mean for my farm? It says in the Employment Standards Act, for example, that you have to give your workers 15 minute breaks,” he said.
“Well I’ll tell you from veterinary experience that it is really hard to convince a cow that’s calving to stop pushing for 15 minutes.”
Cindy Keichinger, who has a farm operation that employs up to 17 people between Marwayne and Kitscoty, stood before the crowd and argued many of the safety rules are redundant.
Her operation already has its own safety regulations and procedures in place and she said she doesn’t see a benefit from forcing additional regulations on farmers.
“I do not see that any farm operation wouldn’t do that,” she said about having their own safety procedures.
“Our livelihood depends on us being safe,” she said.
“I really resent being accused of not giving a damn.”
Another concern that came up at the meeting was private property rights.
Many farms operate on the farmer’s residential property, so the thought of government Occupational Health and Safety inspectors being able to walk into someone’s yard without notice also raises some questions.
Lucky Hinton, whose farm near Mannville has been in the family since 1907, expressed strong resistance to the idea.
“When a government agent comes out to our farm, because they will pass this, because they’ve got a socialist agenda, I’m not going to let them on my place,” he said.
“If I go to jail, I do. Our land is sacred.”
Starke said one of the main arguments proponents of the bill use involves the recent deaths of children on farms that happened over the last couple of months.
One incident involved three young girls who died in an accident in Withrow in October, and yet another involving a 10 year-old boy who died in a forklift accident near Killem last month.
Some people say if Bill 6 had been in place those tragedies wouldn’t have occurred, but Starke argues it’s awareness, not legislation, that saves lives.
“Legislation does not make the workplace a safer place; it doesn’t prevent injuries,” he said.
“Education does. Making people more aware of things does.”

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