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Politics

Kenney vows to axe, replace rules on Alberta farm employment and injury compensation

The UCP leader says he'd scrap and replace Bill 6, if elected premier of Alberta. Bill 6 spells out workplace safety, employment standards and workers' compensation for farms. Tom Vernon reports.

Alberta Opposition Leader Jason Kenney says if he were premier he would repeal legislation that ensures workplace safety, employment standards and injury coverage on farms.

He says the NDP government didn’t properly consult before bringing in the law, which he says is making it hard for farms and ranches to survive.

“The NDP put the cart before the horse and, as a result, lost all public trust from farm and ranch families,” Kenney said Tuesday. “To rebuild that trust there is no acceptable alternative but to scrap [it].”

Kenney said if his United Conservative Party were to win a spring election, he would consult with farmers and ranchers before bringing in new basic safety standards and more flexible injury coverage.

The consultations would focus “on how best to balance the unique economic pressures of farming with the need for a common-sense, flexible farm safety regime.”

READ MORE: Alberta farmers sound off as controversial Bill 6 is debated in legislature

A new law called the Farm Freedom and Safety Act would require farmers to have workplace injury coverage, but give them the option of getting it from the Workers’ Compensation Board, as is now the case, or through a third party as long as basic standards were maintained, Kenney said.

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Small farm operations of three or fewer paid employees would be exempt from employment legislation.

The current farm safety rules were introduced by Premier Rachel Notley’s government in 2015 and got off to a rocky start. Opponents rallied outside the legislature and voiced concerns that the legislation would kill farms and prevent family members from participating in farm chores and culture.

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

The government worked with farm groups and specified that the rules would only apply to paid farm workers, not family members or relatives.

Farm workers were put under Workers’ Compensation Board protection in 2016 and, last year, new rules on employment and safety standards were activated.

READ MORE: Final phase of Alberta farm worker safety bill takes effect December 1

The rules address safety standards unique to farm operations and cover minimum wage, holiday time, holiday pay and overtime hours.

The government says flexibility is built in. For example, there’s latitude on overtime rules during busy seasons such as harvest and seeding.

Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier said Kenney’s concerns have already been addressed.

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“The work has been done,” Carlier said at the legislature. “I can only speculate that he (Kenney) is looking for a few extra votes in rural Alberta.”

Kenney also promised Tuesday to fight well-funded special interests lobbying against Alberta’s agri-industry, but didn’t specify which groups.

Carlier said he had no idea what Kenney was talking about.

“That’s quite perplexing and somewhat troubling that he’s fearmongering a theory of his that doesn’t exist.”

Notley is expected to soon call the election, which by law must be held by the end of May.

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