By Jeremy Appel
Since Bill 17 passed the Alberta legislature in late 2017, farm workers must receive paid holidays, which went into effect at the beginning of 2018.
The legislation also includes a fine of up to $10,000 for failure to comply with Alberta Labour Standards.
This year’s Family Day on Feb. 19 is the first time farmers are required to provide paid leave for that holiday.
Bill 17 is an outgrowth of the contentious Bill 6, which related to farm safety, and the latter’s controversy still lingers with discussion of the more recent legislation.
Eric Musekamp of the Bow Island-based United Farm Workers of Alberta says that extending farm labourers’ rights, including mandatory holiday pay, is key in making Alberta agriculture competitive in a global context.
“This is necessary for our industry to participate in the world marketplace,” Musekamp said, adding that “sustainable sourcing” is of growing importance to global producers and consumers.
“Alberta was completely out of step with the rest of the country and going-forward marketplace demands.”
Although he has issues with how Bill 6 was initially rolled out by the provincial government, Musekamp suggested that its positives outweigh the negatives.
“I did present a plan to the government on how to bring forward Bill 6 legislation and they decided not to do that,” said Musekamp.
He suggested that the government work directly with the Federation of Agriculture to create a Farm and Ranch Training Society modeled on the one that exists in British Columbia.
But the NDP government was not solely to blame for the opposition drummed up to farm safety legislation, said Musekamp.
“Part of what happened is what I’d describe as a little bit of mischief within the bureaucracy that the government inherited from the other guys,” he said.
For example, Musekamp said some bureaucrats spread misinformation that the legislation would apply to family farms.
“A lot of that is political hyperbole,” he said.
Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA and UCP finance critic Drew Barnes says the NDP’s farming regulations, coupled with its various tax increases, will ultimately make Alberta farmers less competitive on a global stage.
Although he said he agrees with some aspects of Bill 16, farmers should generally be allowed to establish their own regulations, as they had in the past.
Specifically, Barnes expressed support for the provisions that mandate paid compassionate and protected leaves.
“The idea of these leaves empower families and allow people the time to care for, or provide support to, sick or suffering loved ones,” he said.
However, he regards mandatory statutory holiday pay as a needless burden on farmers.
“For some businesses, mandatory stat holiday pay, specifically to employees (who) don’t usually work on that day … will cost them thousands of extra dollars,” said Barnes.
“What this NDP government is doing is adding layers and layers of expensive burden to our small businesses, our farms and our ranches.”