By Colin Piquette, MLA for Athabasca-Sturgeon-Redwater
Life is getting better for the thousands of Albertans who are paid employees on farms and ranches – and for the farmers and ranchers who employ them.
But for decades, the PC government had ignored the need to modernize the rules to reflect the realities of work in Alberta’s agricultural sector, and too many workers were left without the same protections the rest of Albertans take for granted in their workplace. Prior to the Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act, Alberta was the only province without comprehensive occupational health and safety laws for farm and ranch workers, a state of affairs that no responsible government could allow to continue.
There was a lot of controversy surrounding these long overdue changes. Who can possibly forget the furor over Bill 6? Sparked at the very beginning by admittedly confusing and even misleading statements by some WCB and OHS employees, the opposition did everything they could to exploit these initial missteps for maximum fear and consternation long after they themselves knew better. As a person who grew up on the farm myself and as a farm insurance agent until my election in 2015 I know that although the great majority of farmers have always striven to work safely, there has always been room for the kinds of improvements only good legislation can bring. That’s why every other province has done just that, most of them decades ago.
To be clear, none of their dire prophecies have come to pass. Both family and non-family farms continue to survive and to thrive (depending on weather and commodity prices of course!) in Athabasca, Thorhild Smoky Lake, and Sturgeon counties, and the rest of the province.
That’s why I’m so pleased to see that my colleagues Labour Minister Christina Gray and Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier have been able to work with industry stakeholders, and in consultation with Albertans, to make sure workers get the protections they deserve while still recognizing the legitimate concerns of farm operators and continuing to repect the unique multigenerational family farm culture.
This didn’t change when the act came into effect Jan. 1, 2016. What did change is that since then more than 1,860 paid, non-family agriculture workers have had their workers’ compensation claims accepted. They’re getting the supports they need, when they need them, if they’re injured on the job. All workers deserve these kinds of protections, and so do the families that depend on them.
Our government promised that any changes we made to rules on farms and ranches would be made alongside those in the industry and only with the input of all Albertans. And that’s exactly what we did. Over the past two years, stakeholders all across the province and everyday Albertans have been part of the discussions.
The technical rules for workplace health and safety, which come into effect Dec. 1 this year, are common-sense solutions developed in extensive collaboration with farmers and ranchers and with the consensus of industry stakeholders.
The result is that we’re able to enshrine in regulation the strong culture of farm safety that the vast majority already practice, and with the assistance of our ag partners we’re able to support producers with a grant project to help in establishing health and safety practices and procedures that will make their farms and ranchers safer for their workers and their families. A lot of hard work to be sure, but Albertans have never shirked hard work in a good cause and we’re not about to start now!