Farm Labour, Health and Safety: How Ontario Works

As the Bill 6 debate continues in Alberta, Real Agriculture is taking a look at how other provinces regulate farm labour, health and safety.

Are there lessons to be learned from how other provincial legislation was developed and how it’s constructed? Let’s take a look at Ontario.

In June 2006, Ontario agriculture was brought under the umbrella of the Occupational Health and Safety Act. The creation of the Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act for Alberta agriculture could create a similar level of regulation in Alberta.

Dean Anderson, strategic advisor for agriculture at Ontario’s Workplace Safety & Prevention Services, sees one very significant difference when he compares the Ontario and Alberta experiences – the speed of the process.

“In Ontario, we took a year to bring farmers under the Act. We told farmers it was coming in 2005, but it did not come into place until 2006. The intent to add agriculture to the Act was first presented to the industry’s agricultural labour issues co-ordinating committee in 2003. “They agreed that farmer workers should have rights, but they wanted to build and enact them in a logical manner,” notes Anderson.

The process proceeded from there and included 12 months of working with the industry, getting feedback, writing regulations and informing farmers on how to comply with the legislation. Anderson says an entire year was committed to informing farmers about the act, getting feedback and writing regulations. At the time, Anderson and Ministry of Labour officials made over 200 presentations to get the word out.

A number of legislative acts govern agriculture in Ontario. The Employment Standards Act covers wages, vacation and hours of work. Under this Act there are many exemptions for agriculture. the Occupational, Health and Safety Act (OHS) covers health and safety in the workplace. Workers compensation is required for agriculture and is included in the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act . Ontario also has the Agricultural Employees Protection Act, which is the responsibility of the Ministry of Agriculture (not Labour). It allows farm employees to organize.

Here’s a closer look at specific questions on how farm labour, health and safety rules and regulations work in Ontario.

1 – Do farmers have to offer workers’ compensation?

  • Workers compensation has been required for paid workers since 1973. Coverage can be purchased for family members, but it is not required. To cover a family member, they have to be designated as a paid worker.

2 – How much does workers’ compensation cost?

  • Premium rates are based on a percentage of $100 of salary. Average rate in the province for all industries is around $2.16 per $100. Agriculture has injury rates slightly higher than average so premiums tend to be higher. Examples include: livestock farms, $7.09; field crop, fruit and vegetable farms, $2.84; poultry farms and agricultural services, $3.27.

3 – Do OHS rules apply on farms?

  • OHS rules have been applied to all farms with paid workers since 2005.

4 – Do rules regulating hours worked/employees/rest periods apply to farms?

  • These are covered under the Employment Standards Act. There are specific exemptions for agriculture, however. For example, harvesters do not have requirements for hours of work, days of rest, required days off or time between shifts. Vacation pay is required. Things like termination and severance are the same as other industry sectors.

5 – Can OHS inspectors visit farms unannounced?

  • OHS inspectors don’t have to announce where they go for any industry sector. When an inspector arrives at a farm, however, they have to follow and respect all farm safety processes (e.g. established biosecurity protocols for the farm). Farmers can’t tell a Ministry of Labour inspector to go away. They have the right to inspect a workplace. Family farms that do not have paid workers are not part of their jurisdiction and they do not have the right to enter.

6 – Can OHS inspectors investigate incidents?

  • If there is a critical injury or fatality, investigators must investigate. They also have to respond to and investigate complaints, even anonymous ones.

7 – How do regulations apply to children?

  • There is no age limit for work in agriculture or farming. Determination for age of work is actually covered under the School Act. There are some rules about working during school hours. It really comes down to parents’ assessment of age appropriateness and ability. Farmers are allowed to pay their kids an allowance for farm work. It does not classify them as a paid worker.

8 – Do farm workers have the legal right to unionize?

  • Farm employees can form associations, which can be a union or a branch of a union. This is included in the Employee Protection Act, which has been in place for 14 years. There have been attempts to unionize primary farm workers, but they have all failed to meet the requirements of the Act.

9 – Is parental/maternity/sick leave, termination notice required?

  • These are enshrined and defined in the Employment Standards Act. There are some limitations for migrant workers.

10 – Does the minimum wage apply to farms?

  • Yes, Ontario’s $11.25 minimum wage does apply to farms. Farmers are allowed to pay piece (e.g. XX cents per bushel harvested), but it must equal the minimum hourly wage.

Related: Consultation Critical to Making Farm Labour Legislation Workable: Manitoba Farm Leader

 

Bernard Tobin

Bernard Tobin is Real Agriculture's Ontario Field Editor. AgBern was raised on a dairy farm near St. John's, Newfoundland. For the past two decades, he has specialized in agricultural communications. A Ryerson University journalism grad, he kicked off his career with a seven-year stint as Managing Editor and Field Editor for Farm and Country magazine. He has received six Canadian Farm Writers' Federation awards for journalism excellence. He's also worked for two of Canada's leading agricultural communications firms, providing public relations, branding and strategic marketing. Bern also works for Guelph-based Synthesis Agri-Food Network and talks the Real Dirt on Farming.

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