Choice in insurance, education in the classroom and having a say before legislation is passed were the key themes expressed while in consultation.
Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Devin Dreeshen is attending 23 meetings over a three-week time span to hear input on the newly proposed Farm Freedom and Safety Act which is set to replace Bill 6: the Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act.
They plan to “hit every corner of the province”. The Drumheller-Stettler region was lucky enough to get two locations for discussion due to the size of the riding.
Consultations began on Thurs. July 25 in Camrose and Vegreville before moving to Drumheller and Stettler the next day.
In the first leg of the journey, Minister Dreeshen has found the process to be a step in the right direction.
“It’s very positive,” Dreeshen began. “Farmers are saying that they appreciate the fact that they’re being asked their opinion on what farm safety legislation should look like in the province.
“We are starting fresh. We’re listening to what farmers think would actually be practical and common sense on their farms. It’s encouraging to see these farmers come out and want to have their say.”
The new act is set to be introduced in the fall which is geared towards being practical and implementable for operations of any kind as well as focusing on safety.
“At the end of the day, whether it’s family members on your farms or paid employees, that everybody goes to bed at night, everybody feels safe working on the farm which I truly believe people feel that way but just to make sure that there is more education or a culture of safety that is out on farms. That is ultimately a great goal coming from all of this.”
For labour relations, currently waged, nonfamily workers have the right to unionize and set up bargaining units with their employers but to date, there have been zero applications for union certification in the farm and ranch industry.
As for workers compensation and insurance, farming and ranching operation employers are required to have Workers Compensation Board (WCB) coverage for their paid, non-family employees.
There is no industry in the nation where insurance is mandatory but employers have the option of choosing either WCB coverage or private insurance.
People in the industry voiced their feelings about the lack of freedom which has been one of the main topics discussed around the table.
“A lot of farms have insurance, kept their private insurance but paid a WCB premium to try to be in compliance with Bill 6 so that is something you hear grinds a lot of people’s gears and so that is something I think this new piece of legislation will definitely give choice in insurance,” said Dreeshan.
Drumheller-Stettler MLA Nate Horner added, their desire is to provide insurance for those workers. We don’t want Alberta to lag behind in that way but small farms are different and they are treated that way in most other jurisdictions when they talked about cross-jurisdiction referencing.
“We want this to be legislation that small farms, big farms, industry and families can live with,” said Horner.
Agricultural education in the classroom has been a highly requested item, one that the provincial government is looking at potentially implementing for the curriculum rewrite next year.
“I will advocate for more agriculture in the classroom so eventually kids understand where their food comes from and they also understand the importance and the great story we have to tell with modern agriculture, that we can produce so much food with such a low environmental footprint,” said Dreeshan.
“It’s amazing. We are the best in the world at it so promoting that positive good news story about agriculture is something that our kids should feel pride in our agriculture community,” said Dreeshan.
Local MLAs have been proactive in organizing these round-table meetings and inviting people in the industry.
“We knew the Minister was availing himself upon us but we took it upon ourselves to ensure that we got our areas covered,” said Horner.
Horner noted that more roundtable discussions will be held in the near future to cater to the east side of the constituency as well.
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