Farmers and ranchers from all over Central Alberta gathered at Westerner Park Tuesday to protest the Alberta Government’s proposed Bill 6.
About 200 people turned up to the protest ahead of the meeting which was slated to take place Tuesday afternoon.
“This jeopardizes our way of life. It jeopardizes how we do business and it jeopardizes the viability of our farm. This is important. If we’re in a position where we’re threatened to lose 100 years or more of family work, emotions are running high,” said Naomi Mckinney, who lives on a family farm just outside of Ponoka.
According to the province, Bill 6, the Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act, will allow every worker in Alberta the right to a safe, healthy and fair workplace. Currently, Alberta offers less protection for farm and ranch workers than any other jurisdiction in Canada.
If Bill 6 is approved by the legislature, two changes will happen on Jan. 1st. These changes include that WCB coverage will be mandatory and farms and ranches will no longer be exempt from Occupational, Health and Safety laws.
Changes to employment standards and labour relations laws will follow, likely being made next spring.
As a start, Bill 6 will remove exemptions from existing workplace rules. Then, existing regulations and codes will be amended in consultation with farmers, larger scale producers, industry associations and the public, according to the province.
“Oil companies can afford that. Farmers can’t,” said Merle Anderson, who’s from Carbon.
Anderson added that the costs could become too high for most farmers to bear.
“There are liabilities that we face in industries other than farming that are going to get applied to us and farming is not one that can pass on that cost,” he said.
Lori Sigurdson, minister of jobs, skills, training and labour said she has been listening to Albertans regarding Bill 6.
“I want to assure those families that Bill 6 does nothing more than bring Alberta’s safety standards on farm and ranching operations in line with every other province in Canada,” she said. “Family farms have thrived in those provinces, and they will continue to do so in Alberta.
“The concerns I’m hearing about most relate to what the legislation means for family, friends and neighbours who pitch in on the farm. I can assure you that farm kids will continue to make their communities proud in their local 4-H program, just as they do in every other province.
“Neighbours and relatives will continue to help each other out in times of need, just as they do in every other province. These customary parts of farm life will go on as before, while enhancing protections for employees.”
Brian Jean, leader of the Wildrose Party, wrote in a recent open letter that his party believes, “As many farmers and ranchers do, that more should be done to improve safety for farm and ranch workers. But the government is poised to unilaterally overhaul legislation affecting the traditional livelihoods of thousands of Albertans.
“Omnibus Bill 6 lays down Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) and Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) regulations for all farms as of Jan. 1st. It opens the door to new employment standards, and expands the Labour Code to encourage the unionization of farm workers,” he wrote.
Jean said that calculating the impact on family farms is difficult, and that’s a big part of the reason to take more time.
“By January 1st, all farms will be expected to pay WCB premiums (1.7 to 3 per cent more on their payroll) regardless of the insurance they already carry. Bill 6 also greatly expands the definition of who is a farm worker, and even imposes regulations on unpaid friends and neighbours.”