November 26, 2015
The vast majority of Alberta farm workers are currently excluded from much of Alberta’s legislation governing the workplace, including occupational health and safety legislation, minimum employment standards legislation, the Workers Compensation Act, and laws surrounding collective bargaining and unionization.
Bill 6, The Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act proposes to change this and, if enacted, will amend four separate pieces of legislation. Each of these changes will result in significant new legal obligations being placed on many of Alberta’s farming and ranching operations.
What workplace legislation would this effect and when will these changes happen?
The OHSA creates minimum workplace standards designed to protect the health and safety of workers.Operations directly or indirectly involved in the primary production of agricultural products are currently excluded from the application of the OHSA. This accounts for the vast majority of Alberta’s farming and ranch workers.
If Bill 6 is passed, the OHSA will be amended on January 1, 2016 to remove the current exclusion. As of that date, any employer of farm or ranch workers in Alberta will be subject to the minimum workplace standards and enforcement mechanisms of the OHSA.
All employers operating farming and ranching operations should therefore familiarize themselves with the obligations placed upon them by the OHSA. In particular, employers have an obligation to ensure the health and safety of workers, and report any serious workplace injury or accident. Additionally, workers have the right to refuse unsafe work.
As of January 1, 2016, Government Safety Officers will have the power to inspect worksites for compliance and extensive powers to investigate any serious injury or accident. Employers will be subject to significant monetary penalties and even potential criminal prosecution for violations of their obligations under the OHSA.
Further technical regulations unique to the farming and ranching industries are projected to come into force in early 2017, after governmental consultation with industry.
January 1, 2016: The Workers Compensation Act (“WCA”)
As of January 1, 2016, workers’ compensation insurance will be mandatory for all agricultural workers in Alberta. Farmers are currently able to opt-out of coverage.
Employers that have previously opted out of purchasing Workers Compensation coverage should familiarize themselves with the Workers Compensation Act. Mandatory insurance coverage will create an additional expense for employers but also provide some protection against civil claims in the event of a workplace injury. The WCA prevents workers from both claiming workers’ compensation benefits and suing an employer for damages resulting from a workplace injury.
Spring, 2016: The Employment Standards Code and Labour Relations Code
Proposed amendments to the Employment Standards Code and the Labour Relations Code, are projected to take effect in the Spring of 2016. Under the proposed changes, Alberta farmers will no longer be exempt under either piece of legislation.
Among the new requirements under the Employment Standards Code, farmers will be obliged to pay all employees at no lower than the minimum wage (currently $11.20 per hour) as well as overtime and vacation pay, and to prevent children under the age of 15 from performing work without both parental approval and the approval of the Director of Employment Standards.
The proposed changes to the Labour Relations Code will allow farm workers to unionize and bargain collectively with their employers.
Going Forward: A New Regulatory Landscape for Alberta Farmers
Alberta farming and ranch operations will soon experience an unprecedented change in the regulation of their workplaces and employees. This article highlights only some of the new legislative requirements that will be imposed on farmers and ranchers if Bill 6 is passed. Employers will face significant penalties, including potential criminal convictions, for non-compliance with these new legal obligations. Alberta’s farm and ranch employers should review the obligations placed upon them as a result of Bill 6 and ensure that they are compliant upon the changes taking effect. The government website detailing the proposed changes, timelines, and legislative impacts can be found at http://work.alberta.ca/farm-and-ranch.html
If you have any questions about this topic or any other questions relating to workplace law, please do not hesitate to contact a Mathews Dinsdale lawyer
For more information on new developments in Workplace Law, please refer to our website at: http://www.mathewsdinsdale.com/news-events/in-a-flash
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