Farming community up in arms over Bill 6

Yesterday in Red Deer hundreds who would be affected by the proposed Bill 6 flocked in protest to Westerner Park for a meeting held by the NDP. The province is working hard to quash concerns of this controversial legislation, which is set to begin in January, but it doesn’t seem to have much effect as momentum behind the protests seems to only be largely increasing.

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. Farmers are protesting the change because they feel in general that they were not fully consulted regarding Bill 6 and that it is being pushed through too quickly. According to news reports they also say the rules should only apply to corporate farms, not small, family-run farms as farmers feel the Bill will prevent neighbours from helping out with such tasks as harvesting and calving.

According to the government, if passed, the OHS legislation would apply to all family members when they are involved in the commercial operations of the farm but not when they are involved in non-commercial activities around the private residence – working in the backyard vegetable garden, painting the house, or being involved in recreational activities would not be covered. However, when working on commercial operations such as where crops, livestock, barns and or equipment shops are located, OHS legislation would apply. Even if a family member does not live in the residence connected to the land being farmed, the OHS legislation would also apply to that individual if they are involved in the commercial operations of the farm, according to the government.

Meetings have been held throughout the province and farmers and ranchers have attended in droves – driving their farm equipment, riding their horses and protesting the approval of Bill 6. And just on Monday 1,000 farmers showed up on the steps of the legislature in protest.

They are not the only ones upset about the proposed legislation. The Wildrose Official Opposition is not impressed either. Leader Brian Jean stated in an open letter that the NDP needs to take more time before passing the proposed Bill.

“Unless something changes, perhaps the most transformational rural legislation in a generation will come into force just 45 days after first being made public, and impact over 40,000 farms across the province,” he said.

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.”

It seems like if passed this Bill will have a large impact on many families across Alberta. Albertans have already been hit hard with falling oil prices and unstable economic conditions. Many farmers have said they are in favour of safer workplaces, but more consultation needs to be made and the Bill is not ready to be pushed through.

It will be interesting to see where this issue lands the Rachel Notley government.

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