Bill 6 passes final reading


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December 15, 2015 10:39 AM

Alberta’s Bill 6 passed its third and final reading last week.
The bill, called the Enhanced Farm Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act, removes exemptions for farmers under the Worker’s Compensation Act (WCB), Occupational Health and Safety (OHS), Employment Standards and Labour Relations.
The NDP amended Bill 6 several times since its introduction, responding to the backlash from the province’s farmers who say their lives would be heavily impacted by the rules and regulations set out.
The government held information sessions across Alberta during past weeks to help put minds at ease, but many farmers who attended came out with more questions than answers. 
Garth George, a grain and cattle farmer from Marwayne, attended one of the sessions in Vegreville last week and said he doesn’t feel anymore certain about his farm’s future.
“Honestly, it’s fear of the unknown,” said George. “I’m hoping that our cries have been heard but I don’t think so; I really am worried because I don’t know what to do.”
Some of the worries about the bill when it was first proposed involved family members and neighbour workers and how WCB and OHS rules would apply to them.
The unique structure of farm operations and the unpredictable hours farmers and their workers keep to make the farm run smoothly caused enough confusion with the new rules that the government was forced to make amendments in a fashion some people saw as “on the fly”.
“Across Alberta, we have heard farming and ranching families’ concerns,” said Lori Sigurdson, minister of Jobs, Skills, Training and Labour, in a press release
“... the amendments explicitly exclude owners of farming or ranching operations, and their family members, from the mandatory application of WCB and OHS rules.
“We are also introducing amendments to assure Albertans that neighbours can still volunteer to help each other out, without being subject to the new rules.”
The amendments caused more suspicion than reassurance for farmers like George, who said he thinks there’s a lot the government is keeping secret.
Bill 6 is like the tip of a big sword Alberta farmers are about to get through the back, he said, adding he believes the bill is just a way for the NDP to enforce bigger items on agriculture down the road.
“If it’s for real, great, if they’re going to exempt everybody,” he said with a laugh.
“But I don’t sincerely believe it is (for real); I’m honestly scared because it’s just so in the dark.”
Todd Hames, a grain and oil seed farmer out of Marwayne, was also at the Vegreville information session and said the event made it even more clear how unprepared the government was when drafting and implementing the legislation.
He said he doesn’t think the NDP has a solid understanding of their own end goal, a fact that didn’t go unnoticed by farmers in attendance.
“As a tax payer and as a farmer it makes me nervous that two things can happen here: (either) they have no idea what they’re going to do, or the nervous part, is they know what they plan to do and they’re not telling us,” said Hames.
One of the biggest clues that the NDP might be freewheeling the process for Bill 6 came in the many contradictions they were finding themselves in when confronted by farmers’ questions.
Many farmers were unclear on whether or not OHS inspectors would have the authority to enter their property without permission.
The ministers present at the meeting assured that inspectors wouldn’t be able to waltz onto private land unless there was an accident or complaint, but Hames said the rules in OHS is very clear that they could do it at their own discretion if they choose to.
When one farmer asked the ministers if they’d read the act themselves, there was no answer.
“They didn’t really respond when they were challenged,” said Hames.
Hames’ solution to the whole ordeal echos what many have suggested — that the NDP need to repeal the bill, do more thorough consultations, then move forward after having a clear end goal in sight.
All in all though, he thinks things will likely turn out alright, but with the bill passed and the consultations still ongoing, it’s the interim period that is causing the most confusion.
“Because the government is sort of talking like there’s a period of time we’ve got to make the regulations and it’s unclear as to what regulations we’d be under for this honeymoon period,” he said. But with these things aside Hames sounds a lot more upbeat than some of his farm and ranch colleagues.
He said he is confident that at the end of the day farming won’t change that much and things will continue without too much difference, though he admits there will be more regulations to deal with.
“I guess I’m optimistic in the respect that they’ll see the light (laughs) but I guess time will tell.”

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