New Alberta workplace bill would expand employment standards, allow unionizing on farms

The Alberta government has introduced legislation to overhaul workplace rules across the province, including expanding labour relations rights and employment standards rules to non-family farm workers.

Bill 17, named the Fair and Family-friendly Workplaces Act, received its first reading on Wednesday. If passed, most of it would take effect on January 1, 2018.

While many of the proposed changes apply to all types of workplaces, the legislation would move agriculture under the province’s Labour Relations Code, giving paid, non-family farm employees the ability to form unions and to bargain collectively.

“We’re extending labour relations to the farm and ranch sector, bringing Alberta in line with the Supreme Court ruling governing the right to strike,” said Labour Minister Christina Gray in a press conference, emphasizing that family members on farms and ranches would be excluded.

“We are making sure waged non-family members will have the same rights that other workers in Alberta have, and we are making sure we do provide that time to communicate with these going into effect on January 1.”

Following a recommendation from the Bill 6 technical working groups, a public emergency tribunal would be established to end disputes and arbitrate agreements in cases where a strike or lockout would put crops or livestock at risk, she noted.

The bill, which was drafted with the help of Andrew Sims, former chair of the Alberta Labour Relations Board, would also apply parts of the Employment Standards Code to farm workers.

Vacation pay and minimum wage requirements under the Employment Standards Code would apply to waged farm employees, while hours of work and overtime rules would not.

The Employment Standards Code would also apply to youth on farms and ranches.

The legislation would raise the minimum working age from 12 to 13 and clarify the type of work adolescents are allow to do.

The province emphasized that legislation would “have no effect on youth activities such as 4-H, casual work or branding parties and would ensure friends and neighbours can continue helping each other as they have done for generations.”

“I anticipate there will be questions (from the farm community), but given that these changes came from the discussions of the technical working groups (formed after the passage of Bill 6), I think we’ve hit the right balance with these changes for the farming and ranching community,” said Gray.

More to come.

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