Bill 6 document contradicting Alberta labour minister's claims described as 'miscommunications'

Labour Minister Lori Sigurdson says "miscommunications" are to blame for a document published by the Workers Compensation Board that contradicts her government's position on mandatory coverage for children, neighbours and other unpaid labour on family farms under Bill 6.

WCB Alberta document, now pulled offline, said mandatory coverage would include kids and unpaid labour

Lori Sigurdson speaks to reporters about Bill 6 in Okotoks, where she said it was "always our intent" to exempt non-paid workers from mandatory WCB coverage. Sigurdson described a document published by Alberta WCB saying the opposite as a "miscommunication." (Evelyne Asselin/CBC)

Labour Minister Lori Sigurdson says "miscommunications" are to blame for a document published by the Workers Compensation Board that contradicts her government's position on mandatory coverage for children working on family farms under Bill 6.

The new farm safety legislation would force farm operators, like most employers, to provide WCB coverage for their employees, but there has been confusion surrounding whether this would extend to things like kids pitching in with chores or neighbours popping over to lend a hand on family farms.

Sigurdson said on Tuesday that an amended version of the bill would include an "explicit" exemption for this type of work.

The province later clarified in a press release that "WCB coverage would be required only for paid employees, with an option for farmers to extend coverage to unpaid workers like family members, neighbours and friends."

But a document published on the WCB Alberta website in mid-November explaining the implications of Bill 6 states the opposite.

"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," the document reads.

"You will be asked to provide a 'value of service' for the work they perform," it continues.

The document was removed from the website minutes after a CBC reporter pointed out the contradiction.

'Government was not clear'

At a Bill 6 forum in Okotoks on Wednesday, Sigurdson said the government has always planned to exempt children and other unpaid workers on family farms from mandatory WCB coverage in future regulations, despite that not being in the initial text of the legislation.

"This was always going to be our intent, but we were asked by the farming and ranching sector to make that explicit," she said. "So, we're introducing two new amendments that are coming up very shortly so that it's very clear that this is for paid workers on farms and ranchers."

Sigurdson later issued a statement by email in response to questions about the contradictory WCB document.

"There have been miscommunications on Bill 6, including from official sources because government was not clear about our intention and we are clarifying that now with amendments," she wrote.

The WCB also says it simply misunderstood the government's intent.

"Government has clarified the original intent of the legislation," spokeswoman Dayna Therien told CBC Calgary in an email.

"We have removed content that was not consistent with the intent to exempt unpaid family members and neighbours. We will be updating our information to reflect their intent."

Wildrose skeptical

Wildrose labour critic Grant Hunter, however, wasn't buying the explanation, and said it seems to him like the government is making up the rules of Bill 6 as it goes along.

"It's right there in black and white," he said of the contradictory document. "When you read it, it's fairly clear what their intent was."

Hunter said the NDP government has lost the trust of farmers and blaming bureaucrats for mixed messages isn't helping to rebuild it.

"Frankly, they've been throwing bureaucrats under the bus quite a bit now," Hunter said. "It's really not very professional."

Read a saved copy of the WCB Alberta document that was pulled offline here: