Amendments to Bill 6 were announced earlier this week by the NDP government after province-wide protests.
As of Dec. 7th, amendments were announced by Lori Sigurdson, minister of jobs, skills, training and labour which included the Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act to 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 and in all cases, farm and ranch families may elect to choose WCB coverage for waged owners, waged family members and unwaged neighbours and friends.
Last week in Red Deer, hundreds of protesting citizens gathered at the Westerner grounds last week during an NDP consultation event regarding Bill 6 – Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act.
Farmers from across the region assembled with families, farm gear and even animals to debate the controversial Bill and to question the NDP government regarding details of amendments that are going to be made to the current Bill structure.
Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Oneil Carlier was present to speak on behalf of the government. “We have not been clear. We have not been communicating with you about this Bill, but these amendments are one way we can do better,” Carlier said.
“We are consulting with you to make sure the laws around farming make sense. Other provinces have rules to protect the farm community and we are looking at those as well. The rules will set a minimum safety standard that only paid employees will be included in.
“These amendments will take effect the same time the Bill does. Rules that relate to employment standards – like hours of employment – won’t take effect until spring 2016. The same is true for Labour Relations related provisions.”
Throughout the consultation, members of the community questioned the ministers and government representatives. One of the views expressed repeatedly by the crowd included pleas to delay the passing of the Bill beyond Jan. 1st, in order for members of the community to access the amendments. As well, many concerns about the loss of farm family lifestyle were expressed.
Red Deer County Mayor Jim Wood attended the consultation, and was called upon during the question period to raise his concerns that mirrored those of many other attendees. “What I want to do is to make sure that whatever you do does not impact the way of life that we have,” Wood said. “What I would say as a politician and what I’m going to ask you to do is this – typically when we try to bring in some new legislation in our municipality, the first thing we do is have an open house. We ask the public how they would do something, and what they want changed. We take that information and continue from there.”
Wood continued, “I’m going to suggest to you that you delay passing the Bill and have the consultations that will bring the knowledge of the farming community to you. They will tell you what is necessary and what isn’t necessary. I’m sure that some good will come out of this – we all want to have safety on our farms. I don’t think that’s what we’re talking about. We want it to be reasonable and make sure it works with our community, so please delay your vote.”
Wood’s comments were met with cheers from the crowd. He, like many other speakers, said that the Bill came in quickly and without much consultation. He said that he hopes the NDP will hear the concerns of the farming and ranch community and delay the passing of the Bill.
“I believe that further consultation is 100 per cent necessary and that if this passed prematurely, it’s going to cause problems. We’re seeing quite an uproar here today, we have a pretty angry crowd here and I think they’re angry because they are feeling that they will be negatively impacted.”
Conservative MP Earl Dreeshen for the Red Deer Mountain View riding said, “My riding has thousands of farmers and they have been clear that they feel blindsided by this legislation. The bill was introduced without consultation with family farms. It affects 45,000 family farms across the province and the government didn’t bother to ask them how it would affect them. They are the ones with expert knowledge on the issue, and their voices deserve to be heard.