Alberta’s Bill 6 amended to exempt family farms

Emily Chan,
Published Tuesday, December 8, 2015 12:09PM EST

Alberta’s NDP government has announced new amendments to its controversial proposed farm safety legislation, Bill 6.

Under the amended act, farms with one or more paid employees would have to provide workers’ compensation benefits and apply occupational health and safety rules.

However, family farms without paid workers will be exempt.


Alberta farm safety Bill 6 protest

Farmer and farm families gather at the Alberta Legislature in Edmonton on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2015. (Dean Bennett/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

“Unpaid farm and ranch workers, such as relatives, friends and neighbours helping out on the family farm, will not be affected,” the government website now says.

The government announced the changes on Monday afternoon, saying the amendments help clarify the original purpose of the bill.

“This was our intent all along,” said Lori Sigurdson, Alberta’s minister of jobs, skills, training and labour.

Sigurdson said there was a “miscommunication” when the NDP first proposed the Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act on Nov. 17. At that time, it appeared that the bill would also apply to family members and volunteers.

“When the miscommunication came out it did take some time for us to get that clarity,” Sigurdson said.

According to the government, “Alberta offers less protection for farm and ranch employees than any other jurisdiction in Canada,” and Bill 6 is designed to bring the province in line with national safety standards.

If passed, the bill will go into effect on Jan. 1.

But critics are trying to stop that, saying the proposed legislation threatens to destroy traditional family farms and agricultural lifestyles.

In recent weeks, thousands of protesters organized and attended rallies against the legislation.

“They’re basically saying ‘Trust us, we are from the government, we’ll help you,” Farmer Erin Wall told CTV Edmonton at one protest. “But we don’t want their help.”

Wildrose Party Leader Brian Jean has been outspoken against bill, speaking at rallies and calling on the government to kill the act.

And Alberta’s interim Progressive Conservative leader Ric McIvor has also been critical of the proposed law.

The former PC government, led by Alison Redford, also promised to bring in safety regulations. But McIvor says the NDP government failed to properly consult farmers about the proposed rules.

On Monday, he said the NDP’s recent amendments merely add “confusion” to the debate.

That same day, unions moved to back the bill, calling it a step in the right direction.

Speaking at a news conference to commemorate the 112 workers who have died on Alberta farms since 2009, the head of the Alberta Federation of Labour gave Bill 6 his support.

“It is really about removing the exemptions in law that have denied Alberta’s 50,000 agricultural workers the same kind of rights and basic freedoms in the work place that other Albertans take for granted every day,” Gil McGowan, the association head, said.

With files from CTV Edmonton and the Canadian Press