By Dean Bennett
THE CANADIAN PRESS
EDMONTON _ Alberta is redrawing the rules on work and safety for 60,000 workers on farms and ranches across the province.
Jobs Minister Lori Sigurdson introduced legislation Tuesday making farms and ranches subject to Occupational Health and Safety rules.
Farm and ranch workers would also be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits if injured on the job.
There would be new rules on labour relations and employment standards covering areas such as hours, vacation pay, minimum wages, and the safety of young workers.
Workers will be able to join unions and bargain for wages.
They will be allowed to refuse unsafe work without having to fear being fired.
About 43,000 farming and ranching operations would be affected.
“This is a historic day for Alberta,” Sigurdson told the house as she introduced Bill 6, the proposed Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act.
“If (the bill is) passed, Alberta would join every other jurisdiction in Canada in applying workplace legislation to Alberta’s farms and ranches.”
Under the bill, Alberta investigators will be allowed to investigate serious injuries or deaths that occur on the commercial portion of farms.
Figures provided by the province showed that 25 people died from farm-related accidents in 2014 nine more than the previous year.
The bill will require farm owners to buy mandatory insurance coverage for injured workers, whereas previously they could opt out.
The occupational health and safety provisions would cover anyone tasked to work on the farm, regardless of age, including a neighbour helping out for free.
Alberta is one of four provinces without mandatory workers’ compensation for farmers. The others are Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan, and Prince Edward Island.
Farms and ranches are currently exempt from employment standard rules when it comes to supervision, types and hours of work regarding children.
And Alberta is the only jurisdiction in Canada without any form of labour relations coverage for farm and ranch workers.
The regulations will be worked out following consultations in November and December and phased in.
However, farms and ranch workers will be protected by occupational health and safety rules as of Jan. 1. They will also be covered under workers’ compensation as of that date.
The legislation was promised but stalled for years under former Progressive Conservative governments.
Opposition Liberal Leader David Swann said the bill is long overdue and covers all the bases.
“I say hallelujah. Everybody is going to benefit from this,” said Swann.
He said Alberta farmers are already paying dearly for not having workers’ compensation insurance, saying that when there is serious injury or death on a farm, the farm owner pays another way through civil court.
“These guys get sued and they go under,” said Swann.
The opposition Wildrose party said the bill is rushed and needs more consultation with farmers before becoming law.
Wildrose agriculture critic Rick Strankman said farmers need to know what we are doing as legislators in Edmonton will not cause them undo harm through excessive regulation.
“The most important solution is education and having farmers come together, and a farmer-driven focus on solutions.”