Alberta's agriculture minister conceded his government didn't do a great job explaining its plan to extend Workers' Compensation coverage, and occupational health and safety rules to paid farm workers.

Oneil Carlier spoke at the Alberta Federation of Agriculture's annual meeting in Red Deer on Friday.

"I think we learned our lessons. Communicate sooner, more often, faster, harder what ever that might be," he said.

Farmers and ranchers protested against Bill 6 last fall, saying it threatened their businesses and way of life.

The first reading of the bill removed WCB and OHS exemptions for farm workers that existed in the legislation, but did not explicitly state whether family members and children doing farm work must now be covered under Workers' Compensation. This led to confusion and controversy over whether it would extend to things like kids pitching in with chores or neighbours popping over to lend a hand on family farms. 

The WCB even published a Bill 6 explainer saying family members and children would not be exempt, only to have the government blame it on "miscommunication" and say it always intended to exempt family members and children. The revised Bill 6 that was passed on Dec. 10, 2015, included amendments that explicitly exempt family members on farms whether they are paid for farm work or not. Neighbours who come to the farm to help are also exempt.

Emotions in the debate were heightened by the deaths of a 10-year-old boy who was killed driving a forklift on a farm near Killam, Alta., and three sisters who suffocated in canola seed near Withrow, Alta.

"But I think we've turned that corner and I'm really looking forward to getting to work and making sure this legislation works for Alberta," said Carlier.

Carlier adds the province is in the process of setting up a consultation with farmers and ranchers to come up with regulations to govern the new farm worker law.

Alberta Beef Producers also met in Red Deer on Friday in a closed door meeting to develop what the organization calls a "made in Alberta" approach to farm safety.

Clarifications

  • An earlier version of this story said, "Previous versions of the bill said any unpaid workers, including family members and children, performing work on a farm, must be covered under Workers' Compensation." To clarify, the first draft of the bill removed WCB and OHS exemptions for farm workers that existed in the legislation. It did not explicitly say that family members and children doing farm work must be covered under Workers' Compensation. Nor did it explicitly say they were exempt. When controversy erupted over the issue, the NDP government said the government's intention all along had been to exempt children and other unpaid workers on family farms from mandatory WCB coverage. However, a WCB explanation of Bill 6 published on the web in mid-November 2015 said, "If you are operating a for-profit farming operation (i.e., one which sells goods commercially to individuals or other organizations), you must cover any unpaid workers, including family members and children, performing work on your farm…. You will be asked to provide a 'value of service' for the work they perform." Critics accused the NDP of changing its tune, while Labour Minister Lori Sigurdson said "miscommunications" were to blame for the WCB document. The revised Bill 6 that was passed on Dec. 10, 2015, included amendments that explicitly exempt family members on farms whether they are paid for farm work or not. Neighbours who come to the farm to help are also exempt.
    Feb 12, 2016 4:02 PM MT