On November 16, 2015, government house leader Brian Mason served notice in the legislature of plans to introduce Bill 6 - the Enhanced Protection of Farm Workers Act. The new bill, if passed into law, would affect approximately 43,000 farms and ranches and 60,000 workers in Alberta, and would:
- subject farms and ranches to occupational health and safety regulations;
- require Workers’ Compensation Board coverage for the agricultural sector (currently, farmers can opt out of insurance);
- remove exemptions from employment standards legislation that previously excluded farms and ranches; and
- allow agricultural workers to join unions and bargain for terms and conditions of employment.
Historically, Canadian agricultural workers had been excluded from the above protections on the premise that it would antagonize the unique nature of the “family farm”. However, commercial farming operations have all but replaced the stereotypical “family farm”, and the Alberta government’s move to introduce these protections are in line with the general trend towards increased protection of agricultural workers in Canada. The government is touting the bill as being long overdue given that in the last 30 years, there have been 450 farm-related fatalities, 25 of which occurred in the last year. One devastating example occurred on October 13, 2015, which involved three young girls on a family farm in Withrow, Alberta. The girls were playing on a grain truck loaded with canola when they were buried in the grain. While this unfortunate incident was not work-related, it demonstrates the inherit risks associated with farming activities and supports the position that some level of regulation may be required to ensure the safety of individuals that work in this environment.
Over the next month and a half, the government plans to consult farmers, ranchers and industry groups to get their input with regards to the proposed bill. It is anticipated that amendments to the Occupational Health and Safety Act and the Worker’s Compensation Regulation will take effect on January 1, 2016, and amendments to the Employment Standards Code and the Labour Relations Code are expected to be introduced in the spring of 2016.
More information on the proposed bill can be found here.