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Politics

Alberta to amend Bill 6 to clarify kids, neighbours can still help out on family farms

WATCH ABOVE: About seven hundred angry farmers and ranchers turned up in Red Deer Tuesday to protest bill 6. As Doug Vassen reports, despite government promises to tweek it, very few are happy with what they are hearing.

EDMONTON –  Premier Rachel Notley said controversy over the NDP’s farm safety bill has been caused by a communications problem, not a problem with Bill 6 itself.

On Tuesday, the NDP said it would introduce an amendment to Bill 6 to make it clear that kids and neighbours volunteering to help would still be able to on family farms. WCB and OHS regulations would only apply to paid farm workers.

Speaking on the phone Tuesday from Paris where she is attending the COP21 climate change conference, Notley did aim to reassure those scared their way of life will change.

“What I want Alberta farmers to know is that their kids will continue to be able to work on the farm as they always have, and they will continue to be able to be educated on the farm through 4H programs as they always have.”

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“You may not know that I was a member of 4H. I get this issue. I know what it looks like on the farm, and we have no intention of changing that.”

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Notley said the goal has always been to regulate and protect paid farm workers, while at the same time excluding family members and volunteers on farms.

“It has never been our government’s intention to interfere with what family members, friends and neighbours have always done on the family farm,” said Lori Sigurdson, Minister of Jobs, Skills, Training and Labour. “That’s why we will amend Bill 6 to make clear what was our intention all along – that farm families would be exempt from those laws, which were designed to protect paid employees.”

The premier admitted government officials displayed an “unfortunate lack of knowledge” during public meetings, which is partially to blame for confusion over the bill.

“I want Alberta farmers to know this: what we want to do, is we want to bring Alberta to the same position that every other province in the country is in,” said Notley.

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The proposed amendments to Bill 6 would:

· Make clear WCB coverage would be required only for paid employees, with an option for farmers to extend coverage to unpaid workers like family members, neighbours and friends;
· Make clear that Occupational Health and Safety standards apply when a farm employs one or more paid employees at any time of the year.

WATCH:Alberta farmers continue to protest the Alberta governments proposed Bill 6. The latest protest happening in Red Deer. Jenna Freeman reports.

The province has been under pressure to put the bill on hold pending further consultations with ranchers and farmers, but Notley said the province still expects to pass the legislation during the fall session, which is expected to wrap up within a week.

The government said “ongoing consultations will help form the basis of regulations to be developed by 2017.” Eight sessions are scheduled to take place in December. One took place in Grande Prairie on Nov. 26.

“To be clear, Bill 6 is not in any way going to affect children doing their chores, participating in 4-H, or learning the family business,” said Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier. “It does not prevent neighbours, relatives and friends from helping each other out during busy times. It does not apply to recreational activities such as riding horses or hunting on farmland. What Bill 6 does is bring Alberta farm and ranch safety standards in line with other provinces, and ensure that if a wage-earning employee is injured or killed on the job, that person and their family have the same access to financial supports as employees in other sectors.”

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READ MORE: It’s ‘labour legislation disguised as farm safety’; Alberta family concerned about Bill 6

Bill 6, introduced in the legislature on Nov. 17, would give farm 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.

The legislation would extend workers’ compensation and workplace rules on hours, vacation pay and collective bargaining to 43,000 farms and ranches.

The changes are scheduled to take effect Jan. 1, although the technical requirements under OHS won’t be ready until 2017.

The bill has caused a massive outcry from Alberta’s large agricultural community, where many fear the bill would negatively impact family farms.

WATCH: More than 1,000 farmers and ranchers rallied on the front steps of the Legislature Monday opposing Bill 6. Tom Vernon reports.

Rallies held in Edmonton and Red Deer have drawn thousands of people, and in southern Alberta on Monday farmers lined highways with dozens of trucks, combines and tractors in protest of the bill.

READ MORE: ‘We want safety’: Farmer combines, tractors line Alberta’s Highway 2 to protest Bill 6

“It’s not as if this is just a bunch of rednecks saying, ‘no this isn’t going to work for our industry,'” Nanton-area farmer Leanne Habraken said at the protest. “We want safety. But this bill is immature and inappropriate and the consultations that are supposed to be happening aren’t.”

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Farmers and ranchers say Bill 6 will drastically change their way of life. Kamren Birkbeck runs a 1,000 acre farm near Mayerthorpe with his wife, and attended a large rally on Monday at the Alberta Legislature.

“We are all going to be punished for the way we were born and raised and taught how to do things,” said Birkbeck.

“I always knew farming was a thankless job but I never felt so under appreciated.”

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With files from The Canadian Press