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Beef producers won't support WCB coverage under new safety rules

The Alberta Beef Producers is concerned about enforcement under a proposed new law that will make Workers' Compensation Board coverage mandatory for farm and ranch workers.

'It does not work well for many farms and ranches,' association's executive director says

Farms and ranches will face new work and safety rules, including mandatory WCB coverage for workers, starting Jan. 1 under proposed new Alberta legislation. (CBC)

The Alberta Beef Producers is concerned about enforcement under a proposed new law that will make Workers' Compensation Board coverage mandatory for farm and ranch workers.

Bill 6, the Increased Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act, was unveiled by the NDP government Tuesday. It would make farms and ranches subject to occupational health and safety regulations for the very first time on Jan. 1, if it is passed into law.

Alberta is the only jurisdiction in Canada without any type of labour-related coverage for farm and ranch workers. Occupational health and safety legislation already applies to all other industries in Alberta.

"We do not support mandatory WCB coverage," said beef producers association executive director Rich Smith, a day after Jobs Minister Lori Sigurdson introduced the bill. "Although some farmers and ranchers have WCB coverage, it does not work well for many farms and ranches, and may not be good for many farm and ranch workers.

"Many of these workers will have less coverage on Jan. 1, 2016 under WCB than they currently have under their employer's insurance coverage."

The beef producers knew the bill was coming, Smith said. It spent many hours consulting with the Alberta government, hoping the ABP's views would help in the development of the new rules.

"The legislation appears intended to treat farms and ranches just like other industries, and we hope that further consultation will ensure that these unique qualities are respected," said Smith, whose organization represents more than 20,000 beef-cattle producers in Alberta.

"Farm and ranch work is unique and diverse. Jobs such as raising livestock, seeding and harvesting do not fit into eight-hour days and five-day, 40-hour weeks in easily defined locations with clearly identified workers."

In the next six weeks the province plans to consult with ranchers, farmers and related industry groups. That future consultation remains a salient concern for ABP.

The group fears that by spring 2016 there will not be enough constructive consultation on amendments to the Employment Standards Code "that will appropriately reflect the unique nature of farm and ranch work."

But the producers agree with the government plans to develop detailed occupational health and safety rules for farms and ranches by 2017.

"We have long supported legislative changes that would allow investigation of serious injuries or fatalities in order to help prevent recurrence of these incidents," Smith said.

Twenty-five people died on Alberta farms in 2014, nine more than 2013, according to provincial records. But the statistics are incomplete because currently accidents don't need to be reported, and investigations aren't launched.

Meanwhile, the Alberta Federation of Agriculture, which supports WCB coverage, is concerned about how occupational health and safety rules will affect farm producers, the federation said in a news release Wednesday.

"The relationship between WCB, OHS (occupational health and safety) and farm safety also needs study," AFA president Lynn Jacobson said. "We'd like to see a gradual implementation of the OHS changes, supported by extensive producer education and awareness."

She added producers will have to keep abreast of complicated issues during the next six weeks of government consultation, after a recent AFA survey revealed producers are not generally knowledgeable about the legislation.

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