How has AFA has been involved in farm safety and labour policy discussions?
The Alberta Government has previously engaged with farm groups, including AFA, through information sessions called "Safe and Healthy Farms and Ranches". The intent was to improve work-related fatality investigations on farms. Since November 2014, when the sessions were initiated by the Conservative government, there were two sessions held prior to the change in government, and two held after. We also met with a representative of Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) in the spring of 2015 to gain additional clarity on the changes being considered at that time.
During the last four years, AFA has met with previous agriculture ministers and the current Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Oneil Carlier at various points during our normal course of business. While not the focus of these meetings, farm safety was certainly discussed.
Specific information relating to Bill 6 was not shared with AFA prior to the announcement of plans to bring agriculture under OHS legislation and Workers Compensation (WCB) regulation on November 17, 2015. While that is not unusual, we had hoped for a more robust consultation prior to the legislation being announced.
AFA’s position on Bill 6 is that while we welcome some of the changes in the proposed legislation, more consultation and communication are essential. The quick implementation schedule and unclear communication about the scope of this legislation has meant a significant learning curve for farmers. Their frustration was evident during the information meetings we attended.
We have reviewed the Bill 6 information, and have heard from AFA members and farmers and ranchers in Alberta these past few weeks. We offer our questions and comments on Bill 6, as follows.
Workers’ Compensation Regulation
We acknowledge the value of WCB as a risk management tool that provides protection over and above anything else currently available for farm workers and farm owners in Alberta. A resolution to remove the agricultural exemption from WCB has been on our books since 2011, a resolution that was put forward and endorsed by AFA members.
However, we have also noted concerns with some provisions of WCB, including:
- removing the requirement to cover unpaid workers, while resulting in less administrative work and investigation by WCB, will also remove coverage for family, friends and neighbours. With such coverage being left to the discretion of the farm owner, AFA believes an extensive education campaign that clearly identifies the risks and benefits is warranted
- clarification is needed regarding the circumstances under which children 18 years of age and younger are covered by the Act
- we believe there should be a clear differentiation between employment and farm chores; between paid farm employment and children learning how to farm through family activities
- it needs to be made clear that for legal precedent reasons, while personal coverage is optional for proprietors/partners, it is compulsory for corporate directors who wish to be individually protected from employee litigation. Many farm operations are incorporated, thus adding $375 to $650 per corporate director for equivalent coverage compared to an unincorporated operation.
Occupational Health and Safety Act
The Conservative Government’s Occupational Health and Safety staff initiated a discussion with farm groups about OHS implementation early in 2015. At that time, it was presented primarily as a means to enable the investigation of fatalities and serious injuries on the farm. This information could then be used to develop targeted farm safety initiatives, and would also allow for farm accidents to be properly categorized. Many farm groups were on board with that portion of the Act.
Again, we have some concerns:
- applying OH&S legislation only to operations with one or more paid workers means a majority of farm family fatalities/serious injuries would be exempt from investigation, and according to Canadian Agricultural Injury Reporting (CAIR), injuries and death are most frequent among owners, then family members, and then paid employees
- statistics from CAIR reveal that the majority of fatalities result from machine rollovers, machine run-overs and machine entanglements, and thus suggest these areas need to receive precedence in any farm safety program.
Employment Standards Code
Unless farm operators or their families have some familiarity with payroll in non-farm operations, this legislation may be difficult to understand. Yet of all the legislation proposed by Bill 6, this will be by far the most expensive for many farm operations. We encourage the Government of Alberta to launch a major education campaign through workshops, forums, online training and seminars to encourage producers to become familiar with at least the major components of the Code and Regulations.
Our observations on this component of Bill 6 include:
- in many instances, salaries and working conditions have already been negotiated for 2016 without producers considering the additional costs of the Employment Standards legislation, thus putting producers at a disadvantage
- various exemptions to the Employment Standards Code have been provided by the Director of Employment Standards for other industries; we propose identifying exemptions (for example, hours of work) that could also be applied to agricultural activities to enable production practices to continue uninterrupted
- we propose that the work adolescents and young persons may perform be revised to reflect agricultural employment
- it is our strong recommendation that implementation of this legislation be deferred by at least a year, until 2017, to give producers a chance to become familiar with it, plan for it and budget for it.
We have forwarded these concerns to the Alberta Government for their review and have a meeting with the Minister of Jobs, Skills, Training and Labour in January 2016. We will report back on what we learn at that time.
It has been apparent to AFA for some time that our provincial government (Conservative and NDP) was looking at making changes to farm labour and safety legislation. Our position has always been that it is crucial for farmers to be involved in the process.
We encourage our members – and all farmers and ranchers in Alberta – to be informed on the changes by attending the Alberta Government Farm and Ranch Meetings in December, or share their views through the online survey to give the government feedback on the proposed changes.