Alberta redrawing rules on farm work, safety

The rules surrounding work and safety on Alberta’s 43,000 farms and ranches are being changed by the Alberta government.

Bill 6, introduced in the legislature Tuesday afternoon, gives workers access to Workers Compensation benefits if injured on the job. It also puts farms and ranches under the Occupational Health and Safety act, allowing investigators to review any injury, accident or death related to the commercial operation of a farm.

“This legislative framework will give that level playing field to all workers in Alberta,” said Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier earlier in the day.

“Having Occupational Health and Safety come on board January 1 gives us the opportunity to go onto those farms and make sure they are safe,” added Minister of Jobs, Skills, Training and Labour Lori Sigurdson. The province is currently the only jurisdiction in Canada without employment standards coverage for farm and ranch workers.

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READ MORE: ‘Absolutely shaken up’ – Alberta’s agricultural community responds to farm tragedy

The changes take effect Jan. 1, although the technical requirements under OHS won’t be ready until 2017. The dates have at least one industry group concerned.

“To incorporate 46,000 businesses, none of which are exactly the same, all in one fell swoop by January 1, that’s a tremendous task,” said Marion Popkin, a Valleyview area farmer and a director with the Alberta Federation of Agriculture.

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“We have a nasty gap there between legislation enacted, and where the goal is, or what the actual standard is that we’ve got to meet.”

The Wildrose opposition has also raised concerns about the quick timeline.

“No one in Alberta cares more about the safety on family farms than the moms and dads who run them,” said Wildrose MLA Grant Hunter in a statement.

“The NDP need to put this bill to committee instead of pushing it through in less than 45 days so Albertans, farmers, and industry are properly consulted.”

Eric Musekamp has spent over a decade fighting for farm workers rights, and is the founder of the Farmworkers Union of Alberta. He said the step by the new government is badly needed.

“For me, this has been a fundamental issue right from day one; this is a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms that every Canadian, every person in Canada is subject to, except here in Alberta,” said Musekamp. “It’s very troubling that our fundamental Charter rights can be dismissed at the whim of the political winds.”

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Watch below: Global’s Quinn Campbell has reaction from southern Alberta farmers on the changes to the legislation.

Lynn Jacobson, president of the Alberta Federation of Agriculture, said Wednesday many of the province’s producers are worried about how the proposed legislation is going to affect their day-to-day operations. He said the province can’t simply shift rules that apply to the construction or oilfield sectors onto ranches and farms.

Minister Sigurdson said the province will consult with stakeholders and hold public meetings about the bill.

“We’re not going to be coming down hard on them at first, we’re just going to be working with them. It’s going to be an educational model until we have all the specifics in place.”

Laura Nelson is the Executive Director at the Farm Safety Centre in Raymond, Alta. She said when it comes to Bill 6, consultation will be key.

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“I would hope that we could all move forward with open minds, that life evolves and things happen and improve and I think that if this is done in a thoughtful way with input from all parts of the sector that there is potential that it can be positive for everyone.”

With files from Global’s Quinn Campbell and The Canadian Press

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