The Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act, referenced by most in Alberta as Bill 6, was passed into law on December 10, 2015. As most will remember, Bill 6 repealed the existing exemptions for farm and ranch workers from the operation of the Employment Standards Code, Labour Relations Code, Occupational Health and Safety Act and Workers Compensation provisions.
Bill 6 sparked considerable public debate: many groups opposed the substantive changes proposed by Bill 6; some questioned a perceived lack of consultation; others embraced some or all of the changes. Following the initial public feedback, Bill 6 was amended to exempt owners, family members and neighbours, as well as to exempt paid farm and ranch owners (and the family members) who do not work for wages from the operation of the Occupational Health and Safety Act and the Workers Compensation Act.
Bill 6's amendments to the Occupational Health and Safety Code confirm that the OH&S rules do not apply to the production of crops, or the processing of food (i.e., fruits and vegetables) or other products, through the cultivation of land, the raising and maintenance of animals or birds, beekeeping. The Code also does not apply to the operations of greenhouses, mushroom farms, nurseries, sod farms, landscaping or the raising or boarding of pets.
While Bill 6 has been passed into law, the Alberta government has formed committees to draft regulations applicable to Bill 6. The regulations will clarify the scope of the application of Bill 6 to farming and ranching operations in the Province. The proposed regulations have not yet been distributed or circulated, as the Government has indicated they intend to engage farmers and ranchers in a consultative process. Farmers and ranchers will need to pay close attention to the regulations that are created for Bill 6.
In the interim, pending the enactment of regulations to Bill 6, we recommend that certain measures be undertaken by farmers and ranchers:
- Once proclaimed, Bill 6 intends to eliminate the exemption for farm and ranch workers from the operation the Alberta Employment Standards Code. Farm and ranch workers may be subject to rules regarding set minimum hours of work, overtime, general holidays, vacations and restrictions on employment of children. We recommend that farm and ranch owners become familiar with the provisions of the Employment Standards Code, so as to understand their obligations, as an employer, regarding minimum wage, holidays, hours of work and the other provisions applicable to employers in the Province of Alberta when regulations are finalized. Contact Stephen Torscher (403-298-2445) or other members of labour and employment group for further advice and recommendations regarding the duties and obligations of employers pursuant to the Employment Standards Code.
- Farm and ranch owners also need to become familiar with the provisions of the Occupational Health & Safety Act. The clear objective of the Occupational Health & Safety Act is to prevent work related injuries and fatalities. As an employer, you would have the general responsibility under Section 2 to provide a safe workplace. To defend yourself in relation to any injury or fatality, either during the course of the investigation or any subsequent charge, you need to be able to document what steps you have taken to show that you have been diligent in providing a safe workplace. Some of the required steps will include at least the following: the development and sign off by an employee of a Safety Manual, a documented orientation as to what you have shown the new employee in terms of safe work procedures, development of hazard assessments including the requirement to stop work in the event that the circumstances change, safe work procedures necessary to execute the job(s), maintenance records on the buildings, equipment and tools, material safety data sheets for chemicals and other dangerous goods (propane, gasoline), the wearing of personal protective equipment (hard hats, gloves, steel toed boots), the conducting of a daily safety meeting before the start of work. Generally, the employer must establish that he has shown the employees how to execute their work safely and has not requested an employee to perform work that he is not properly trained for (ie: operating a sophisticated piece of farm equipment). Special precautions need to be addressed with respect to dealing with young people, individuals whose second language is not English and activities which may be described as being particularly dangerous; namely, activities where there may be a risk of harm to the worker or those individuals working immediately around him. Under the Act, workers are able to refuse unsafe work that resents an imminent danger. We are able to assist farmers and ranchers with understanding their obligations pursuant to the Act and the Code. Contact Dan Stachnik, Q.C. (780-429-9761) for further advice and recommendations regarding the duties and obligations of employers pursuant to the Occupational Health & Safety Act.
- The Workers' Compensation Act now applies to farm and ranch workers, but this does not include farm families who do not have waged workers, unpaid farm and ranch workers (such as relatives, friends or neighbours) and children doing chores. There is an impending deadline of April 30, 2016 for all farm and ranch employers to register under the Workers Compensation Act.
Further updates will be required upon the implementation of regulations to Bill 6, but, in the interim, certain steps should be taken by farm and ranch owners to ensure compliance with the Employment Standards, Occupational Health and Safety and Workers Compensation provisions.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.