Every worker needs to be protected

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A job is a job whether a person works in manufacturing, an office, retail or in agriculture … all workers deserve the same rights and protections.

That is why I was pleased when the Alberta government said they were going to bring in the Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act, better known as Bill 6. The purpose of the legislation is to make farm work safer and bring the province’s labour laws more in line with the rest of Canada. When it was introduced Alberta was the only province that didn’t have, in some form, a farm worker safety law.

Or at least I was in favour of the concept. Like everything else in life, the devil is in the details, and the problem is that although the legislation exists, the public is very short on details, at least in some areas.

Bill 6 is very clear in requiring farm operations to require mandatory Workers Compensation Board (WCB) coverage for paid workers. Before then, as I understand it, farm operations could voluntarily take on WCB coverage, or use private insurance. The problem being there was no way to be sure a farm had insurance, leaving some workers if injured on the job without compensation. Thanks to the legislation, farm and ranch workers also now fall under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHS), which means OHS officers are allowed onto their properties to investigate if there has been a serious injury or death.

Both in my view, are good things.

However, due to the protests, the government left out a lot of the regulatory teeth of the bill waiting to hear from six working groups they created as part of an industry consultation process. These groups are composed of 78 ranchers, farmers, researchers and other industry experts.

The Employment Standards Technical Working Group released the first of two reports last week. Among the group’s recommendations is to allow operators to forego setting limits on the hours for work or periods of times when breaks need to be scheduled, and no overtime pay for non-family waged workers.

In my opinion that is one of the most important parts of any legislation designed to protect workers. While I am not an expert on the subject, the number of hours a person has worked and the number of breaks, whether it is during the workday, or the amount of time between shifts, is a major factor in workplace accidents. The more alert a person is the better they are at preventing accidents.

And not to be awarded overtime for their efforts is discriminatory — if a construction, manufacturer or a worker in some other small business gets overtime then so should a farm hand.

This being said, the government is giving Albertans until April 6 to voice their opinions online at www.alberta.ca/farm-and-ranch-consultations about Bill 6 amendments and I would encourage everyone for or against to do so.

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