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.

 

Shaun Haney

Shaun Haney is the founder of RealAgriculture.com. He creates content regularly and hosts RealAg Radio on Rural Radio 147 every weekday at 4:30 PM est. @shaunhaney

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13 Comments

Kevin Serfas

Very good article Shaun. I fully agree with you that not opening an account as a point of protest is an extemely unwise decision. It’s a game of Russian Roulette. Chances are, nothing will happen but I promise you, you will not want to be the one caught without it if something happens.

Reply
Drew Kirkpatrick

Or, as predicted, farmers are not going to hire employees because the expense of doing so is too high.

Reply
Shaun Haney

Drew, I find it hard to believe that a farm if it requires more people resources to get the job done is going to avoid hiring anyone due to 2% premium. To risk not getting the crop planted or harvested on time for a 2% employee cost seems like bad business to me.

Reply
Nicky

Shaun, what an incredibly biased article. You neglect to consider the number of farmers who had private insurance for their employees. Not only was it far more economical, but also provided better coverage 24/7 than that force fed by the WCB.

Reply
Shirley

Yes– I agree!! Farmers are not going to hire employees if they don’t have to. They will do the work themselves. WCB is an extremely corrupt system. I have been subject to it first hand– and not in a farm situation. They refused to pay me for an injury saying their WCB doctor deemed it so. I had never at any time seen their doctor. They are a joke.

Reply
Kim Milne

It would be very interesting to see how many farmers have laid off workers or will no longer hire employees. Maybe this could be one reason why there hasn’t been a stampede to open WCB accounts. I would also be very interested in finding out how many accounts have been closed since Bill 6 passed.
So instead of procrastination or protest, it becomes a case of preservation. Keep the farm going without paid employees.

Reply
C Duquette

Having accident insurance is very important thing and I think you’d find that most farms, including ours who doesn’t have employees yet, already have private insurance in place for their farms. My question is why are farmers being forced to use WCB? Other provinces have made it mandatory for farming businesses to have Insurance…. whether it’s WCB or otherwise…. Is that not an option? I’d be very shocked to find that the farmer in your scenario had 0 coverage with anyone. I agree that having no coverage as a protest is a very bad idea because even if we are very safe, farms have hazards and I believe that our Alberta Farmers know that and very few of them have zero coverage of any kind. That is very sad if that is the case.

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Lenard Biscope

WCB will tell you as they told me – open the account when you have employees scheduled to start. Not months in advance. Agricultural producers are not procastinators. They plan on when things need to be done and budget accordingly.

Reply
Alison

I do not have paid employees on my farm so therefore do not require WCB!
What I don’t however understand is why a cattle or horse farmer has to pay $2.98 for every $100 in wages and a Veterinarian or Farrier only has to pay $0.31 for every $100 in wages!

Reply
Lee Eddh

Shaun I agree the risk is high for not having insurance for workers. My complaint is that WCB is not good for the employee. We are dealing with WCB currently regarding an injury (nonfarm). The discussion is whether it was work related injury even though the incident happened while he was at work. If farms and industry had the option of choosing the insurance company to cover us this incident would not be an issue. I know there was insurance available to farms prior to this legislation that covered employees 24/7 whether work related or not. I agree that farms should have employee insurance but have choice in what company to insure with.

Reply
Carol Wensman

That’s all well and good. But when you compare it to car insurance…we can choose which provider we would like for our insurance. We shop around and find the best fit for our needs. In the Bill 6 situation we are not given that choice. Many farmers already have some form of insurance, better than what WCB can provide.

Reply

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