Occupational health and safety ("OHS") policy has been
a hot topic in Saskatchewan as of late. Not only has the regime
received a large overhaul under the new Saskatchewan Employment
Act, but a recent news item has sparked hot debate within the
province over governmental regulation of family farms.
On August 5, a provincial OHS officer arrived at a small family
farm near Endeavour, Saskatchewan after receiving a complaint
related to labour practices involving young persons. This
particular family farm raises, butchers, and processes free-range
chickens "from field to fork", and all members of the
family and some of the neighbours kids have helped with these
farming practices in the past. The processing facility at the farm
is small and operated manually, unlike large industrialized
facilities that are almost entirely mechanized.
While young farm workers in Saskatchewan do receive some legal
exceptions (for example, farm children under the age of 16 in this
province are allowed to drive a tractor), The Occupational
Health and Safety Regulations explicitly forbids employers
from allowing young persons under the age of 16 to work "in a
production process in a meat, fish, or poultry processing
plant." As such, the OHS officer determined that the farm was
in violation of the law.
After the story broke, the Saskatchewan government stepped in
with what Minister of Labour Relations and Workplace Safety Don
Morgan called a "common sense" solution: children of the
farm owners could continue working on the farm, including in the
processing facility, however no other children under the age of 16
will be allowed to work within the processing facility. On August
8, the Minister said "We're going to treat this as an
extension of the family farm. For the immediate family members,
they don't require a permit or anything else. They can continue
to work. What we've decided to do here is just take a common
sense approach and say this is part of a family farm operation.
We're treating it as a family farm. We're going into
harvest time and the message we want to get to everybody is rather
than look at regulations, look at safety. Pay attention, use
equipment carefully and wisely." He also stressed that OHS
officials had looked into the safety record of the farming
operation and had found it to be spotless.
While the family farm in question has termed the outcome to be
'win-win' for everyone, employers of all sizes must be
aware of the provincial laws, including employment standards and
OHS regulations, in operating their businesses. Don't count
your chickens before they hatch - consult a labour and employment
lawyer if you are worried about compliance under the new OHS regime
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