It’s been five days since Bill 6 passed third reading, four days since it was given royal assent, and it’s already majorly affecting farmers and ranchers across Alberta. If you haven’t read my first article, please do.1
I’m not a farmer or rancher and never grew up in the rural community, but I have a great appreciation for all the hard work they do. I write this in the hopes that the urban community would see the severity of Bill 6 and may stand in unity with rural Albertans.
Farmers and ranchers have been an independent community for over 120 years. Their roots go deep. It is so sad to see what’s happening to Alberta’s agricultural history: a major part of our thriving economy. Historically, the government has used the divide between urban and rural Alberta to its advantage by “pleasing” either one or the other. This isn’t right: the government must work with both to bring unity, not division. I have asked many urban Albertans if they know what Bill 6 is, or how it’s affecting the Agricultural Community. Many have never heard of it, or they assume from media that it’s only about safety and workplace rights. Albertans must be made aware of the full details of bill 6, because it will ultimately affect all of us.
Bill 6 is a combined bill, which means it amends more than one bill. It will affect the Workers’ Compensation Act, Occupational Health and Safety Act, Employment Standards Code and Labour Relations Code for the Agricultural industry. This bill infringes upon the rights and freedoms of farmers and ranchers to work their land. As Bill 6 is written, it will remove most farming and ranching activities from their current exempted status. Each of these Acts is a substantial piece of legislation, and there have been no conclusive amendments yet. The government says it will develop the regulations through consultation with the farm and ranch industry and will take effect once the consultations are complete.2 The government has already failed to communicate effectively over the past few weeks, and now they’re expecting farmers and ranchers to trust that they will make the best decisions possible for their livelihood. As the Workers’ Compensation Act and Occupational Health and Safety Act are currently written, these measures will both take effect on January 1st, 2016. This is an inadequate amount of time to prepare for such drastic changes.
Since Bill 6 was presented, there has been an amendment that will exempt all paid owners, paid family members related to the owner, unpaid friends and neighbours from WCB and OH&S. WCB will remain optional for these workers. While I am extremely grateful for the amendment, the bill still puts a huge limitation on a family operated farm who has one or more paid employees who are not family members. For a farm or ranch owner to have employees year round that are non-related, it’s most likely that their operations extend beyond providing for themselves to urban and rural communities of Alberta as well. What about the farms and ranches that hire seasonal workers who aren’t family members? Now, due to that fact alone, Occupational Health and Safety will have complete jurisdiction over their operations, and they will have to make some serious decisions. 3 These farms and ranches will have to be brought up to OH&S standards, a process costing hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars, which will be nearly impossible for small farms and ranches to afford. Many times they have small profit margins and sometimes no profit at all. The roles of an Occupational Health and Safety Officer are very intrusive. Currently, as the law is written, an OH&S Officer can enter the premises without notice or a warrant to search and seize anything that they deem in violation of the regulations, at any time of the day. This includes farmers’ and ranchers’ homes because they have their office inside which would be considered a worksite. If a farmer or rancher is non-compliant with the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations, they’re subject to many penalties, and fines up to $500,000 or imprisonment. (Reference: OHS Act, Section 41).3 Considering how codependent the agricultural community is, the loss of one of its industries will have a domino effect, eventually eliminating the remaining industries. Farmers and ranchers live, eat and sleep at their place of employment. Farmers and ranchers don’t work 9:00-5:00p.m., and then shut it down for the day. They are farmers and ranchers 24/7.
WCB is being forced on farmers and ranchers, taking away their freedom of choice when most already have their own 24/7 private insurance with superior rates and benefits. Don’t you think they should have a few options to choose from when it comes to workplace insurance? To ensure the companies stay competitive so they can choose the best coverage possible? WCB will have complete control over how they provide coverage to the Agricultural Industry, without any competition. How would you like to have one sole provider of health insurance, auto insurance or home insurance?
Farmers and ranchers already take safety precautions on their farms. The problem is that this bill moves way beyond “enhancing safety”4. Any person at any job can refuse unsafe work. We are free to choose where we work, who we work for and say no to something that could put us in a dangerous situation. If it had truly only ever been about improving farm and ranch worker’s safety, there would never have been these major pieces of legislation. The appropriate way for the government to have addressed this would have been to document consultations, prepare proposals to farmers and ranchers, and begin improving safety programs through the farm safety programs that are already available.5 There never would have been such a huge uproar like what you’ve seen in the media, or in person these past few weeks. Instead of revamping safety precautions, the government is persecuting every farmer, rancher and their Workers. There are over 52,000 people on a Facebook group that don’t support this Bill. There have been numerous rallies, convoys, petitions, videos and songs produced, graphics, thousands of letters, emails and phone calls. This didn’t happen over “safety precautions,” it happened because this bill threatens their entire livelihood. This is not an exaggeration.
Here is a great analogy that was shared on the Facebook group: “I asked how my urban friends, many of whom live in beautiful but older houses, would feel if the Government passed legislation requiring all homeowners to have their houses brought up to 2016 Building Codes by January 1, 2016, or risk fines of up to $500,000? They were appalled and said that the government couldn’t do that. I said that they had just done something very similar to farmers who had a non-family paid employee. Even worse, because OH&S non-compliance threatens their livelihood and their home. When they questioned me about family farm exemptions, I pointed out the older or ill farmers who continue to farm with the help of a hired man. Now, to avoid OH&S, they must lay the employee off and struggle alone or sell out. My friends said the government could not have intended that. I said they refused to consult.”
It has been greatly demonstrated across the province that Bill 6 does not have the support of Albertans – primarily those in the agricultural industry that it affects the most. I sat in the galleries and watched the official opposition present several reasonable amendments that could have worked in favour of all the farmers and ranchers, but the government voted against every one of them. Not to mention, they limited time to debate to one hour in second reading, committee of the whole and third reading. I highly recommend you watch the sessions online.6 Government is elected to represent the people of Alberta, but instead it’s chosen to ignore Albertans and press on with its own agenda. This is not democracy, this is dictatorship.
As you may know, a small group of people have gotten upset enough about Bill 6 that they have posted inappropriate comments about our current government on social media, and so have attracted the wrong attention. These few who have spoken inappropriately do not represent the vast majority of the farmers, ranchers and workers who are opposed to Bill 6. In fact, at the Alberta Legislature grounds last week, there was a rally of almost 1800 people, and everyone was respectful. There weren’t any heated arguments, name calling or death threats. They assembled themselves in the appropriate manner, uniting to stand for their Constitutional right to be heard.
Farmers and ranchers didn’t give the government a blank cheque to sign – the government did it themselves, and robbed the former of their entire livelihood. What if you went to university, worked hard at your career all your life, and then all of a sudden a law was put into place that took everything you worked for away from you, and you were left to figure it out on your own? If you weren’t even allowed to go and work at another job in the same industry because it would be under that same legislation? If you had no say, despite trying everything to voice your concerns? And if you had no response other than, “This is the new law and it’s what’s best; it’s for your protection”? It sounds a bit hysterical, doesn’t it? This is what just happened to every single farmer, rancher and worker across our great province. I went to a winter festival in the city this past weekend, and I asked the owner who was running the sleigh rides how Bill 6 will affect him and his farm. He said this may be the last year he’s doing it, because of all the crippling effects of Bill 6. There are so many concerns, questions and unknowns that remain unanswered.7
Farmers, ranchers and workers aren’t benefiting from these new legislations – the government is. It’s not that Alberta was the last province to have “safety and basic protection rights” for farm and ranch workers, it was the last province that the government didn’t control.
Premier Rachel Notley ran on a platform that promised to support economic diversification and job growth and to restore honest and open government. Unfortunately, Bill 6 has not proven that so far. In fact, since Bill 6 was introduced, many farmers and ranchers have already let go of their long time employees. Employees who’ve farmed all their lives and have no other way of getting a job in the same or a related industry. How is that creating job growth? Not to mention all the oil field workers who have been laid off.
The government has promised they will consult with the farm and ranch industry, and we must hold them accountable to that. Farmers and ranchers know what will work best for them. We must pursue the government to bring much needed clarity on this bill.
What are you doing to help Alberta farmers and ranchers not be destroyed by this obscene law? Will you unite and stand with farmers and ranchers, or be a bystander?
Please contact the Premier’s office, Cabinet Ministers, your local MLA and other organizations that are involved with Bill 6 to voice your concerns.
Finally, I’d like to share some excerpts from letters written by Farmers and Ranchers that have been shared on the Facebook Page, “Farmers Against NDP. Bill 6”, or shared directly with me. More awareness of the reality of this bill, the better.
“The one employee we have has been here for over 20 years. He is like family to us. When his wife passed away we helped to pay for a funeral he could not afford, we have paid to fix his vehicles, we have given him food and helped care for his animals not because we had to, but because we care for him. It seems to me that Notley and her fellow NDP members haven’t even taken the time to ask the farm employees how they feel. Most people who work on family farms do so because they enjoy this way of life and unlike the NDP they are not about the money because trust me if they were, they’d be long gone. None of us are getting rich. We personally have been hailed out for 11 years in a row and insurance doesn’t begin to pay the expenses. One of our other human rights she neglects to mention is free will. We all have the free will and choice to do whatever we want, that is the beauty of living in a democracy. As a member of a family farm with liability insurance, we don’t have a problem supplying extra insurance for our employees but WCB and OH&S is a problem. I now numerous people who are employed outside of farming, that have paid into WCB only to be either cut off from benefits before they are healed, or denied benefits all together. Due to the wisdom of Premier Notley and the NDP’s Bill 6, we will unfortunately have to let go of our long time, loyal employee and many of our farmer friends will be doing the same.”
“I come from a mixed farm in Southern Alberta. I have dryland pasture, irrigated crops and irrigated grass for my cow calf operation and grain. I have many concerns and unanswered questions about what Bill 6 has changed and what to do now.
1) WCB and branding. I know they said that if it is an unpaid friend or neighbor, you don’t need to purchase WCB. Which is great as at branding there can be up to 10 or more people that come out for the day to do various jobs. Right now they would be covered under my liability insurance. Next year when the new rules come into effect, I fear that if something happens that my liability insurance will try and get out of paying or covering an incident because they may claim I should have had WCB. So now I feel that my farm may be more vulnerable because it may give my insurance company extra ammo not to pay out.
2) I hire some of my friends for a week here and there. Mostly in combining and times for things like building corrals, and other two man jobs throughout the summer and winter. I am worried about meeting OHS standards during this time because now when you have one paid worker you are no longer exempt. Also your farm would then be considered a work site, so the busy times when you need more help is when OHS child labour laws would apply as well. Also all my bins and equipment would not be up to code, but would only need to be for this short period of time. I do not have the funds to bring it up to code as it would cost thousands of dollars. This is all confusing and convoluted.
3) Chasing and hauling cows. This is done in the Spring and Fall to get them out to pasture and bring them home. Often others may help with either one, but pulling a weighted down stock trail burns a lot of fuel. Wear and tear on a truck and trailer is not cheap either, so one cannot be expected to do this for free. I would then have to have WCB coverage to have someone help me haul cattle even if I just paid them enough to compensate for fuel and there wear and tear. Makes no sense at all.
4) Break downs and having people out to fix it. For instance, my ditch rider is a welder as well but has no company set up. If I break down while farming I can call him up and have him out to fix it in no time. But as of Jan 1st, 2016 I would have to have WCB coverage for him, wait until it goes through and then get back up and going. Things are too time critical to wait, that is why we put in such long hours during our busy times. We cannot afford to sit and wait for the Government’s hold ups and permission to do our jobs.
5) Lack of trust I have for the Government. That fact that there are new amendments and the original plan did not exempt the family farm and their children, unpaid friends and neighbours shows the Government’s true agenda. It wasn’t until we the Farmers and Ranchers turned up the heat on them that they put the exemptions in. That make me worry that over time as the heat on the NDP starts to die down, will they slowly implement the rules and regulations onto the family and unpaid labour as well. I feel that the original Bill is their end game, and they will try and reach it at all costs over the next 3 years.
6) I am very unclear on employee vs contractor. I have attended the meeting in Lethbridge and reading every night all night. Still I am confused, it is claimed that if you do not give a T4 then they are not an employee. But if I have a contractor on site and they do not carry WCB I am liable as well. So then there would be no difference between the employee and contractor as for allowing them on the worksite without WCB I think.
7)Calving time is the most labour intense and around the clock time of year. If I hire someone to help there can be no set hours, no overtime and just do what needs to be done. In cold or stormy weather the cows need to be checked every 1-2 hours around the clock, bedded down and fed. If you are unable to check the cows when they need to be they will freeze to death, get trampled in the mud during storms, or get deathly ill and require immediate medical attention. But the new rules will hand cuff the ability of the help to be able to fulfill the duties required, putting more on the Owner/ Operator.
8) Then new Bill does not address safety. Maybe all the WCB money that goes to OH&S, should go to a farm directed fund that puts on free courses for youth and adults addressing issues and safety on the farm. This would be 10 times better than giving OH&S money, and might relive some fear of having them come onto your farm. If this Bill was truly about safety they would have set something like that up or put some way to fund farm safety programs or courses. But they did not, so it shows it is all about money, unions and control.
9) If I decide to take optional WCB or insure one of my friends that come out and help me a few weeks, what would I be listed as? I ranch, farm, weld, fix equipment ect. How do you break down your job list to fit into their categories? If I do get it, when am I covered? If I am riding a horse would I be covered? Some people ride for pleasure others for work. You have to ride them often to keep them in good broke shape if you are using them for work. I don’t know how to prove that what you were doing in that case is for work and not pleasure. What requirements of proof are going to be necessary to make a claim?
10) This is the biggest and most devastating for me to be able to continue farming and ranching, Bill 6. While it may only be a few thousand dollars to comply with WCB, OH&S is another story. If they are on the property, it could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to bring up to their standards. But you add that up with our new carbon tax and coal phase out and you are looking at a major disaster. In Ontario they have the highest power bills in North America because of the coal phase out. My irrigation costs to run the pivot and pump on the land we irrigate ranges from $22000-$35000 right now just for power. So a 20%-80% hike on that can now run into the $10 000’s. Plus the new carbon tax applies to fuel, so it will have a minor built in charge on our power. I use $15 000-$25 000 worth of fuel in an average year. So if the carbon tax raises the cost 5%-7% on fuel that will also add an extra blow. While they claim the new tax will cost the average house hold $500. I think that it will cost me $10 000-$35 000 a year, depending on how fast the cost of power rises due to coal phase out and the carbon tax. It feels as if we are being set up to fail. If this happens as I have predicted I will be broke and not be able to continue to do what I love and what my family has been doing for a 100 years. I do not have the ability to set a price to regain my added cost, so I will have to solely absorb the extra taxes and costs that will be associated with the NDP’s new platform and agenda. There cannot be any cost passed on to the end consumers which does not seem fair. It seems that the end consumers have put the new tax and fees on me, but I cannot pass it back to them.”
“1) Most farmers are “jacks of all trades” and have been doing their own welding, carpentry, plumbing, mechanic work, electrical work etc. for as long as they have been farming. Under the new legislation and regulations as they are currently written, come January 1st will they be required to get their tickets for all of these trades? Or will he have to hire a welder or an electrician each time something goes wrong (thereby exempting “family farms”).
2) Many small farmers buy their machinery used at auction sales and take exceptionally good care of it to prolong its use as long as possible. A new combine costs in excess of $300,000 – $500,000, and that’s just ONE piece of machinery. Are farmers going to be expected to have new machinery in order to meet inspection regulations? If so, say goodbye to small farmers all together – it is OUTRAGEOUS to expect the average farmer to be able to afford new machinery.
3) The expense of carbon tax alone is already a HUGE blow to small farmers. I know that’s a different bill that we aren’t discussing right now, but thought I’d add it to the compounding list of expenses that will be driving farmers off their own land come January 1, 2016. As I mentioned, these are concerns, not facts. We have not attempted to dissect and interpret the literature, so if there is anybody who is well versed in OH&S and WCB as it will apply to these questions we would be happy to hear from you. Farming is an incredibly time sensitive practice, so any regulation that impedes on a Farmer’s ability to respond to their crop in a timely manner, could end up costing them their entire crop (and salary) for that year.
A family member who works in the oil and gas industry and is well versed in OH&S posted this facetiously, but I wanted to share because anybody who works on the front line of the oil and gas industry knows what a struggle it is to do their job in a timely and efficient manor while still adhering to OH&S standards:
“They (farmers) will have government appointed inspectors designated to each farm who will issue the farmer a safe work permit on a daily basis, and no work will be allowed until permit is issued and will be valid for 12 hours after which the said farmer will need 8 hours of rest. No work will be permitted after dark unless adequate lighting is in place. Also the farmer will also need to have proper safety training and tickets in order to perform certain tasks, an MSDS MANUAL will need to be compiled for all chemicals and extra safety training will be required when handling and of course another special permit will need to be issued. Farmer and inspector will have to do a specific site assessment prior to any work begins and a daily FLHA will need to be completed. As the daily tasks change, work must stop and paper work must be updated to the changing circumstances. Of course proper PPE will be worn at all times. Long sleeves, FR RESISTANT outer wear, steel toed boots, safety glasses, hard hat and gloves. I can go on and on, this is all before you can even enter the “work site” which is your home”’
Thank you to all the farmers and ranchers who contributed to help compose this informative article. Our family will continue to bring awareness, and unite with you.
– Natasha Mintram
I invite all Albertans to attend the Respectful Rally at the Alberta Legislature grounds today (Tuesday, December 15th) at 11:00a.m. Please bring a food bank donation.
References and Information:
- Occupational Health & Safety Info: http://www.qp.alberta.ca/documents/Acts/O02.pdf (Occupational Health & Safety Act)http://work.alberta.ca/documents/WHS-LEG_ohsc_2009.pdf (Occupational Health & Safety Code)
- Alberta Farm Safety Programs: http://www1.agric.gov.ab.ca/general/progserv.nsf/All/pgmsrv430 Alberta Government Farmer Programs & Services already in Place: http://www.programs.alberta.ca/Living/8381.aspx?N=770+761
- http://assemblyonline.assembly.ab.ca/Harmony/ContentEntityDetailView.aspxcontententityid=3157&date=20151209 http://assemblyonline.assembly.ab.ca/Harmony/ContentEntityDetailView.aspx?contententityid=3159&date=20151210
Kill Bill 6- Petition for Plebiscite: https://www.facebook.com/george.clark.184/posts/10207046378791563 https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B04RYbT1G391bUtXc2dhSXExU00/view?pli=1
FAQ where anyone can get the petition and answers to any questions: https://www.facebook.com/george.clark.184/posts/10207035294034451
A post for Area Captains to post and be contacted: https://www.facebook.com/neil.harrison.585/posts/1342057619153037?pnref=story
Explains our response to the LG jumping the gun in regards to the constitutional standing of the Bill 6 Act. https://www.facebook.com/george.clark.184/posts/10207043394876967?pnref=story
Lieutenant Governor of Alberta:
Her Honour, the Honourable Lois Mitchell, CM, AOE
780-427-7243 or LTgov@gov.ab.ca
Government of Alberta:
1-866-415-8690 or firstname.lastname@example.org
780-427-2251 or email@example.com
How to Contact your Local MLA:
Honourable Oneil Carter- Minister of Agriculture and Forestry
“Born and raised on a farm in Val Marie, Saskatchewan, he has called Alberta home for over a decade.”
Legislature Office- 780-427-2137
Constituency Office- 780-786-1997 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Honourable Lori Sigurdson- Minister of Jobs, Skills, Training and Labour
Legislature Office- 780-427-5777
Constituency Office- 780-414-0719 or email@example.com
Official Opposition Members:
Mr. Rick Strankman- Agriculture, Forestry & Rural Development
Legislature Office- 780-427-7237
Constituency Office- 403-755-6281
MLA Email- Rick.Strankman@wildrose.ca
Mr. Grant Hunter- Jobs, Skills, Training, Labour & Red Tape Reduction
Legislature Office- 780-422-1550
Constituency Office- 403-223-0001 or 403-524-4884
MLA Email- Grant.Hunter@wildrose.ca