An open letter to Albertans
Since Bill 6, the Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act, was introduced I have heard from many of you- from family farmers and ranchers, from farm workers, from industry associations and proud urban and rural Albertans.
While many agree that farm and ranch worker safety should be a priority, they have also voiced a deep concern about the impact this Bill will have on Alberta’s family farms and way of life.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts with me; I want to take this time to share some of my own.
Many of you have asked why we brought this Bill forward and why now. Across Canada, every workplace has changed over time, evolving to reflect changes in society and in our understanding of how to get work done more effectively. With those changes, we have adapted to find ways to keep people safer at work, but despite our best efforts one thing that has persisted is that people, young and old, get hurt at work.
Some of those injuries are so severe, so profound, that it prevents a mother, husband, son or daughter from ever being able to do the work that once sustained them and their family. Sometimes those incidents result in a death, robbing a family of a loved one for all time.
"I will never be able to accept that injuries and deaths caused by workplace accidents are simply a fact of life."
The people who have lost a limb, the individuals who have lost their mobility, the families who have lost a loved one— their suffering demands that we do more as a society to prevent future losses. I cannot and will not in good conscience, ignore the lessons of their losses.
The Alberta Centre for Injury Control and Research shows that between 1990 and 2009, Alberta had a total of 355 agriculture-related deaths, an average of 18 per year. Estimates are that for each person who dies, 25 others are so severely injured, they are hospitalized. The number of additional injuries requiring medical attention in Alberta is anyone’s guess as our legislation does not currently allow us to collect that information.
To be clear, these deaths and injuries can be prevented and this is why I believe we need to act now. We cannot prevent them by doing nothing. We cannot prevent them through endless delay. We cannot prevent these deaths if we cannot investigate their causes, learn from them and, where required, act to ensure that the causes are not repeated. We cannot compensate families of those who are injured or killed unless we provide a system to do so. Finally, we cannot assist injured workers’ return to gainful employment unless we also provide a system to do so.
That is the current state of affairs and that is what this legislation was always intended to address. It is aimed at extending to agricultural employees and their employers – and only employers and employees – a right to work safely and a compensation system for those killed or injured at work, similar to other provinces. Family farms are thriving in those other provinces and they will continue to thrive here. Consider British Columbia. Since laws to protect farm and ranch employees were introduced, the farm fatality rate was reduced by 68%, the farm injury rate was reduced by 52%, and the serious injury rate was reduced by 41%. We can make workplaces safer.
The Bill provides for a general duty of care by a farmer in relation to paid farm work, for a paid farmworkers’ right to refuse unsafe work, and for a paid farmworker’s right to compensation in the event of injury or death. Over the next months the details around specific safety standards, the details around the application of the employment standards code and the details around the application of the labour code, will be developed through regulation. It is our government’s intention that this work will be focused on creating a common sense framework that protects paid farmworkers while allowing for the day-to-day realities of life on a family farm.
This common sense framework will be the product of consultations that will occur before the regulations are developed and, then again, after they are drafted and before they are adopted. Family farmers, farmworkers, and other agricultural stakeholders will be invited to participate. Through this process, we will achieve the long overdue goal of protecting farmworkers while continuing the current goal of supporting our farmers.
I have been asked about what we are doing to address the legitimate concerns raised by farmers and ranchers. Let me be clear: Farming is not a just a business in Alberta, it is a way of life and, as I mentioned, over the past days we have heard from farmers and ranchers across this province. We are listening and we will continue to listen.
I also want to clarify what this legislation does not do. This legislation:
- Does not interfere with families’ ability to teach their children about farming and pass on their way of life.
- Will not prevent neighbours from volunteering to help each other out.
- Will not regulate or interfere with children’s ability to participate in doing chores around the farm.
- Will not interfere in any way with farm kids’ ability to learn about agriculture and grow within the 4-H system.
- Will not require you to register your children with the WCB.
- Will not regulate how you operate your household.
- Will not interfere with recreational activities on the farm.
It was a mistake that our intentions and these limitations were not included in the text of the bill. They were always intended to be introduced in regulation. Between what was explicitly stated, and what was intended, fear and miscommunication has filled the gap.
I take responsibility for that.
In the coming days we will introduce an amendment to fill that gap, because I want farming families to be assured that we have heard you and that we are continuing to listen to ensure that any further regulation will meet the unique needs of the agriculture industry.
Premier of Alberta