The provincial NDP government in Alberta is taking serious steps to implementing Occupational Health and Safety laws on family farms in Alberta. This is a disastrous decision that affects 98% of all farms in the province.
Farms do not fall under the umbrella of small businesses, large business, corporations, partnerships or any other business type. They fall under the category of lifestyle. Unfortunately for the farmers of Alberta, this lifestyle also happens to be a business. Bill 6, which will end the exemption of farms and ranches in Alberta from OHS, will also impact the lifestyle of thousands of Alberta’s families.
The premier does not seem to understand that farms operate under very, very different conditions than any other business, small or large. There is no such thing as an 8 hour work day or a 40 hour work week. There is no such thing as “do it tomorrow, wait for the snow to stop, the rain to dry up.”
Farming and Ranching in Alberta is dependent on weather, to an extent which is almost incomparable in any other industry. Almost all of the work done in agriculture revolves around weather. Farmers cannot quit planting, spraying, haying, baling, combining, stacking, fencing, calving, lambing, milking or feeding when their OHS 8 hour workday is over. The weather is coming, and the work needs to be done. It is not unheard of for farmers to put in 20, 25, and 30 hour days during peak times of the year so that their crops and their livestock are safely planted, safely harvested, safely fed, safely born, to ensure that the farm will have an income. OHS does not take into account the exceptional conditions that farmers work under, and farmers cannot be expected to adhere to arbitrary rules when the profits of their farm may be laying in a field or freezing in a snowbank.
The premier also does not seem to understand that 98% of farms are owned and operated by families, who also live on the land they use for their income. Family is perhaps the greatest and most sacred area of life for any person. OHS would enact laws that dictate how, when, and where children of farmers can be taught to work on the farm. This is, at the surface, an attempt to keep children safe on the farm, a noble cause, no argument. However, in reality, it affects the manner in which the family can prepare the next generation to take over the keys to the farm. Children may not know how or have been allowed to operate equipment before it becomes necessary for them to do it, under OHS law. The motto of 4-H Alberta, a youth agricultural program which encourages agricultural education, is “Learn to do by doing.” How can children learn to drive tractor, move cows, birth calves, plant seed, bale hay, or do any other farm chore, if the Alberta government won’t allow their parents to teach them? Again, at its most basic, this portion of the law is respectable, but the implications interfere with the family unit, which is an untouchable area for governments for a multitude of reasons.
OHS does not take into account that a great deal of the work that is done in agriculture is done in a community-oriented fashion. My neighbour, under OHS law, would need to be compensated for any time they might spend helping me move cattle, fix fence, or bring in the barley. In return, they would need to provide coverage for me when I reciprocate the favour. How does this work? Who is going to pay for it? The farmer certainly cannot afford to cover community volunteerism! The culture of agricultural communities has been completely overlooked by the provincial NDP, and it is liable to be completely destroyed if Bill 6 passes un-amended.
Finally, as with all legislation passed by NDP governments across the country, who will pay for the new government workers required to process several tens of thousands of new OHS files that this bill will create? Who will compensate the additional inspectors required to cover literally every square mile of Alberta, looking for violations, on those several tens of thousands of new OHS sites? The taxpayer, the farmer, the rancher. Not only will Bill 6 severely damage a culture, thousands of farming families, and the agricultural industry in Alberta, it will cost hundreds of thousands, if not millions, every year in wages, travel costs (farms are very far apart) and vacation time for these new government employees.
Premier Notley, this Bill is a disaster in the making. Rather than rushing it through legislature with no industry consultation, ask the families of the farms and ranches in Alberta who will be severely affected what they would like to see. I know we all want safer farms, fewer accidents, and no deaths, but help us achieve that with educational programs in rural schools, and programs to help farmers cope with demanding hours. Don’t subject an entire industry, which literally feeds the rest of Alberta, to rules which will effectively destroy family structures and businesses all over the province.