On Thursday December 10, 2015, the Government of Alberta passed Bill 6, the Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act. Bill 6 has generated considerable controversy in the Province. Bill 6 repeals the exemptions for farm and ranch workers that are found in a range of legislation. Generally speaking, Bill 6 affects four aspects of the employment relationship: general working conditions, the right to organize, worker safety, and compensation for workplace injuries by repealing exemptions found in the following legislation/regulations:
- Employment Standards Code, RSA 2000 c E-9
- Labour Relations Code, RSA 2000, c L-1
- Occupational Health and Safety Act, RSA 2000, c O-2
- Workers Compensation Regulation (AR 325/2002)
Prior to Bill 6 the Alberta Employment Standards Code exempted farm and ranch employees, and their employers, from divisions of the Employment Standards Code that set minimum hours of work, overtime, general holidays, vacations, and restrictions on the employment of children and regulation of the employment of individuals under 18 years old. Bill 6 repeals the exemption so as to extend the provisions of theEmployment Standards Code to farm workers.
Similarly, the existing Occupational Health and Safety Act and the Workers Compensation Regulationexcluded farming and ranching operations. Bill 6 repeals these sections and as a result farming and ranching operations are now subject to OHS and WCB requirements.
In Alberta the right to unionize is a statutory right granted by the Labour Relations Code. The Labour Relations Code, did not apply to employees employed on a farm or ranch whose employment is directly related to agricultural production or operation. Bill 6 eliminates the portions of the Labour Relations Code that expressly excludes farm workers allowing farm workers to unionize.
As a result of the controversy generated by Bill 6, the Government of Alberta amended Bill 6 to explicitly allow owners, family members and neighbours to work on farms and ranches without being subject to all of the rules and restrictions as other workers. Specifically, the parts of Bill 6 pertaining to OHS regulations and workers compensation were amended to explicitly exclude paid farm and ranch owners and their family members, as well as friends and neighbours who do not work for wages as defined by the Employment Standards Code.
The changes implemented by Bill 6 will come into force gradually. As of January 1, 2016:
- WCB coverage will be required on all farms with paid (non-family member) employees. Farms will have until April 30, 2016 to register with the WCB.
- OHS basic safety standards will apply to farms that employ one or more paid (non-family member) employees
Additional detailed regulations will be developed via a consultation with the farm and ranch industry and will come into force as the regulations are approved.