EDMONTON – There is growing pushback in rural Alberta against the NDP government’s plan to include farm and ranch workers in safety and workplace legislation.
The Winsnes family calls Bill 6 labour legislation disguised as farm safety.
The Winsnes farm near the Village of Ryley has been in the family for a century.
“We’re as family farm as it gets,” said Christa Winsnes. “It’s just me, my husband and my son.”
It’s a small operation with Christa and her husband taking on most of the tasks. They raise cattle and the profit margin is already slim.
They worry Bill 6 will take away the already tight profit margin. If a neighbour comes to help, the Winsnes’ say, under the new bill, they’d be required to pay for coverage.
“It could mean that we don’t bring workers onto the farm because we can’t afford the extra costs,” said Christa. “That means that me and my husband are going to have to work that much harder because we can’t ask for help.”
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.
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The family says farm safety is paramount. Christa Winsnes taught the farm safety program to rural children for seven years. She believes education is the best way to protect people from farm accidents and injury.
Like many others, they also worry about the rules that would apply to their son. They are grooming him to one day take over the farm. Will he be allowed to work on the farm? Feed animals? (Like his 2 4-H heifers) One day, operate machinery?
“Every business decision we make today is with an eye on the future,” said Christa, “that we’re going to be able to pass it down to him.”
They, and many other farmers, plan to rally on the steps of the legislature on Friday.
Organizer Sara Wheale says the government’s plan to cover farm workers under occupational health and safety laws and workers’ compensation would kill family farms.
Wheale, who lives near the village of Breton southwest of Edmonton, says the province is ignoring their concerns.
The Wildrose Party is also fighting the bill. In Question Period on Thursday, party leader Brian Jean criticized the lack of public consulation.
“This bill will be rammed through this place and enforced by Jan. 1,” he said. “Why is the premier treating our farmers and ranchers like second-class citizens?”
Premier Rachel Notley defended both the bill and the timeline, saying, “It’s absolutely untenable that in this day and age in the province of Alberta we would deny basic fundamental human rights to certain groups of workers.”
Alberta is the only jurisdiction in Canada without coverage for farm and ranch workers.
With files from The Canadian Press