Alberta Farmers Slow to Open WCB Accounts — Procrastination or Protest?



The year is definitely flying by very fast. It only seems like yesterday that famers were rallying about Bill 6 and expressing their displeasure with the possibility of being legislated to offer Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) coverage to employees.

As we approach the end of April we are encroaching on the deadline set by the Alberta Government for farmers to activate a WCB account under the new Enhancement of Protection Farm and Ranchers Workers Act legislation (Bill 6). That’s right. The deadline is April 30, 2016 — the end of this week.

According to the Alberta Labour Minister’s office, the Workers’ Compensation Board is reporting there were 1762 WCB Alberta Agriculture accounts prior to December 31, 2015. As of April 9, there have been 575 new WCB accounts created by applicable farm businesses.

With the deadline looming, I can think of but a few possibilities for the mere 2337 active WCB accounts in Alberta Agriculture. It could be that fewer farmers have employees than we all first thought; farmers are, in general, procrastinators ; or those remaining feel that not getting a WCB account is a way to protest against the Bill 6 legislation.

For some reason I have a sneaking suspicion that some farmers have no plans to open a WCB account.  Some farmers ideologically disagree with being forced to get an account through legislation, likely muttering something like, “I will not be subjected to the tyranny of the Notley government and be told what to do.”

Is increasing the liability risk of your farm worth trying to prove a point that has zero impact on any outcome?

Let’s explore a scenario together.

It is a sunny day in July, and you are still enjoying your protest against Bill 6, and the money you’ve saved on not providing WCB coverage. In fact, some days you smirk or even chuckle at your brilliance. “No one can tell me what to do.” Then your phone rings. It’s the local hospital — your employee has been admitted and is in surgery to repair his shoulder since his arm was caught in a PTO, tearing it from its socket. Your concern for the employee is immediate. You rush to the hospital to provide moral support when he comes out of surgery.

Thirty days later, you are spending a sweaty August day thinking about combining winter wheat, but instead, you are getting ready to go to your lawyer’s office to deal with the lawsuit your former employee filed for damages due to his farm accident. In your mini-protest you forgot that WCB also protects the employer (that is you). Now your silent protest has you in a civil court and you also have to pay a severe WCB fine.

See, your employee was never in on the protest. And now that employee wants to be compensated for the injury on your farm — you are caught with your no-insurance-pants down. 

I agree that there are issues with Bill 6. From the Occupational Health and Safety (OH&S) technicals that have yet to be determined, to the possible organization of farm labour, this omni-bus bill has many working parts that are still unclear. But, no matter if you agree or not, WCB is mandatory and we have a fast approaching deadline.

“But Shaun, my farm is safe, I do not need WCB, and my employees don’t want it.”

I am not sure that argument stands anymore. At this point, saying that your farm is safe so you don’t need insurance is like saying you don’t need car insurance because you have never been in an accident. Automobile liability insurance is also mandatory and you seem to be able to open that account.

It’s time to smarten up, and open that WCB account. It doesn’t make you an NDP supporter — it makes you a smart business owner. As I’ve heard from many farmers, if the premium is around 2%, on a $75,000 per annum employee the cost is $1,500.

There is currently no penalty for missing the April 30 deadline, and the government has not yet released details on how it will handle farms that have not signed up by the end of the week. But that isn’t an excuse to put it off any further.

Ask yourself, is it worth risking yourself millions of dollars in liability for 2% of your payroll just to prove a point that individually no one will notice? Silent protests are just that — silent.

There are still pieces of Bill 6 to battle. Getting a WCB account is not one.

Learn more about WCB coverage for farms.

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