Alberta employers operating farms or ranches should be aware of proposed changes which, if passed, will limit worker entitlements and the corresponding employer obligations relating to workplace insurance, employment standards and labour standards.

Bill 26, the Farm Freedom and Safety Act, 2019 (the “Bill 26”) received first reading on November 20, 2019. If passed in its current form, Bill 26 will amend the Alberta Agricultural Operation Practices Act (the “AOPA”), the Alberta Employment Standards Code (the “ESC”) and the Alberta Labour Relations Code (the “LRC”). The proposed amendments are below.

Proposed Changes to the AOPA

Employers operating farms or ranches are not currently required to have workplace insurance under the AOPA.

If Bill 26 is passed, these employers will be required to have workplace insurance if they have more than 5 workers who are non-family members and who have been employed for at least 6 consecutive months. The AOPA will permit either:

  1. authorized private workplace insurance; or
  2. coverage under Alberta’s Workers’ Compensation Act.

These changes would take effect on January 31, 2020.

Proposed Changes to the ESC

Currently under the ESC, employers operating farms and ranches do not have to comply with certain employment standards requirements if their employees are engaged in work directly related to:

  1. the primary production of eggs, milk, grain, seeds, fruit, vegetables, honey, livestock, diversified livestock animals, poultry or bees;
  2. operations that produce cultured fish; or
  3. any other primary agricultural operation specified in the regulations.

If their employees are engaged in this type of work and are family members, these employers do not have to comply with any of the employment standards requirements under the ESC. If their employees are non-family members, these employers do not have to comply with employment standards requirements regarding hours of work and overtime pay, but they must comply with employment standards regarding:

  • payment of earnings;
  • employment records;
  • minimum wage;
  • vacation and vacation pay;
  • general holidays and general holiday pay;
  • termination notice or pay;
  • layoffs and recalls; and
  • leaves of absence.

If Bill 26 is passed, employers operating farms or ranches with 5 or fewer non-family member employees who have been employed for at least 6 consecutive months will no longer be required to comply with any employment standards requirements under the ESC if their employees are engaged in farming or ranching work. Employment standards under the ESC will also not apply if these employees are engaged in work that is directly related to:

  1. the primary production of mushrooms, sod, trees, shrubs or plants; or
  2. the primary production of eggs, milk, grain, seeds, fruit, vegetables, mushrooms, sod, trees, shrubs, plants, honey, livestock, diversified livestock animals, poultry or bees in a greenhouse or nursery.

Employers operating farms or ranches with more than 5 non-family member employees who have been employed for at least 6 consecutive months will still be required to comply with employment standards regarding:

  • payment of earnings;
  • employment records;
  • minimum wage;
  • vacation and vacation pay;
  • general holidays and general holiday pay;
  • termination notice or pay;
  • layoffs and recalls; and
  • leaves of absence.

If passed, these changes will take effect on January 31, 2020.

Proposed Changes to the LRC

The LRC currently applies to employers operating farms or ranches with non-family member employees.

However, if Bill 26 is passed, the LRC will no longer apply to employers operating farms or ranches whose employees engage in work directly related to:

  1. the primary production of eggs, milk, grain, seeds, fruit, vegetables, honey, livestock, diversified livestock animals, poultry or bees;
  2. operations that produce cultured fish; or
  3. any other primary agricultural operation specified in the regulations.

Accordingly, these employees will not have any labour standards entitlements under the LRC, including the ability to unionize.

These proposed changes to the LRC will take effect on November 20, 2019 if passed.

Conclusion

If the proposed changes in Bill 26 are passed, employers operating farms or ranches will have a new workplace insurance obligation under the AOPA, fewer employment standards obligations under the ESC, and no labour standards obligations under the LRC with respect to their employees who engage in certain types of work.

The Bill will continue to be debated in the Legislative Assembly of Alberta and is subject to change. Miller Thomson will continue to monitor Bill 26 and will provide further updates.