Amendments to Bill 6 exclude farm owners and their families from new rules

EDMONTON – The provincial government said Monday that amendments to the proposed farm safety bill make it clear farm and ranch owners and their families are excluded from the new rules.

The NDP’s Bill 6 has sparked rallies and demonstrations, including at the Alberta legislature and along provincial highways.

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

“The amendments explicitly exclude owners of farming or ranching operations, and their family members, from the mandatory application of WCB and OHS rules,” Lori Sigurdson, minister of Jobs, Skills, Training and Labour, said.

“We are also introducing amendments to assure Albertans that neighbours can still volunteer to help each other out, without being subject to the new rules.”

The province said provisions for family members and volunteers were going to be included in the legislation, but public concern about whether OHS rules and WCB coverage applied to family operations made more clarification necessary.

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Click here to read the Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act (Bill 6).

· The amendments explicitly exclude the application of WCB and OHS to owners of a farm or ranch operation, family members of the owners, and friends and neighbours who volunteer their time on the farm or ranch;
· Only where non-owner or non-family waged individuals are involved in a farm or ranch operation will WCB and OHS apply to the operation, and only to those non-owner and non-family waged individuals;
· If waged individuals are owners or family members of owners, the application of WCB and OHS will be excluded as it pertains to those individuals;
· In all cases, farm and ranch families may elect to choose WCB coverage for waged owners, waged family members and unwaged neighbours and friends.

The Wildrose said while the amendments are welcome, “there is still tremendous uncertainty about what the legislation means for family farms and ranches.”

“The thousands of farmers and ranchers who have shown up to so-called consultation sessions held on Bill 6 have told the government that this is the wrong way to govern,” Wildrose MLA for Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre Jason Nixon said.

“The government needs to listen to the people, and either refer Bill 6 to committee, or kill it outright.”

An information session on Bill 6 was held in Leduc earlier on Monday. A demonstration outside the meeting was the fourth held in protest of the legislation since last week.

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“We need to slow down on this,” Vulcan, Alta. farmer Gary Flitton said. “This is not good government.

“All of a sudden they’ve decided that they know what’s best for my farm without consulting me – or any of us in the Ag [agriculture] industry – that they’re going to take OHS rules and transfer them over to this industry. It’s nothing like any of the other industries,” Flitton said.

The proposed farm safety bill would extend Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) regulations to paid farm employees, and mandate paid workers’ compensation coverage. That has led many farmers to fear it would restrict their children from working on the farm, or prevent neighbours from helping each other.

“The OHS rules are onerous,” Flitton said. “They take away our ability to be innovative and efficient…I’ve never been this angry on any initiative in my life… All we can do is ask the premier to please back away.”

The minister of municipal affairs was at the Leduc session. Danielle Larivee apologized for the miscommunication surrounding the bill.

“On behalf of our whole caucus, we are sorry. We should have provided the details about how we plan to protect farm and ranch families when we first introduced the bill.”

Larivee said the government takes farmers’ and ranchers’ concerns about how the bill could hurt their way of life very seriously.

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“That was never the intent of this bill,” she said.

The Alberta Federation of Labour has come out in support of the legislation. The group held a media conference where members discarded 112 pairs of work gloves, representing each of the 112 people who have died in a workplace accident on an Alberta farm since 2009.

“Instead of focusing on the misinformation, this campaign of misinformation, we should be focusing instead on what this legislation is really about,” said AFL president Gill McGowan.

“It is simply an effort to remove legal prohibitions that have denied agricultural workers the kind of workplace rights and safety protections that other workers take for granted.”

Premier Rachel Notley posted an open letter on social media over the weekend in an attempt to address concerns that have been expressed over the proposed farm safety legislation.

Bill 6 was introduced to help prevent deaths and injuries on farms and to give paid farm workers the same rights as other employees in the province, Notley said.

READ MORE: Notley posts open letter on Facebook to address farmers’ Bill 6 worries

The premier added the legislation would not interfere with a family’s ability to teach children about farming, to have them do chores or to accept help from neighbours, and the law would not require parents to register children for workers’ compensation or regulate how farmers operated their households.

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Notley acknowledged it was a mistake not to clarify that information in the bill. The amendment is expected to address that.

On Saturday, a Mainstreet/Postmedia poll was released which show 60 per cent of Albertans oppose the bill.

READ MORE: New poll suggests most Albertans opposed to Bill 6

Sixty-six per cent of respondents outside of Calgary and Edmonton either strongly disapproved or somewhat disapproved Bill 6. The survey also indicates the controversial bill is seeing the least opposition in Edmonton, where 50 per cent of respondents said they support the proposed farm safety law.

With files from The Canadian Press 

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