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Recommendations on farm employment standards released

Farm workers should not get overtime pay: report


(Canadian OH&S News) — A working group tasked with reviewing employment and labour standards for Alberta’s agriculture sector has recommended that farm workers should not get overtime pay. Family members who work on farms should also be exempted from all employment and labour standards, as the application of standards would be “impractical and unfeasible, as well as burdensome without providing any benefit.”

On the recommendation relating to overtime provisions, the report noted that most jurisdictions in Canada exempt the agriculture sector from overtime. As work hours in the farming sector are unpredictable due to the nature of work, an overtime rate would lower the base pay rate and present “complications” in calculating pay.

The report by the Employment Standards Technical Working Group was posted on the website of the Alberta government on March 6. Members of the public will have until April 3 to provide feedback on the recommendations made by six technical working groups, which started reviewing employment and labour standards for the province’s agricultural sector last May.

Alberta’s Labour Minister, Christina Gray, said in a statement that she was pleased to share the working group’s first set of recommendations. “We would seek feedback as we go through the process,” she said, “and I encourage Albertans to look at the recommendations and provide their honest and rank responses.”

Oneil Carlier, the minister of Agriculture and Forestry, called the recommendations “an excellent starting point” to ensure that waged non-family farm workers enjoy the same rights and protections as other workers, while preserving rural Alberta’s way of life.

Other recommendations included the following:

— The type of work assigned to farm workers under the age of 16 must not be detrimental to their health, education or welfare, and parental consent must be obtained by employers;
— Work hours for waged, non-family farm workers aged 12 and 13 should not exceed 20 hours of work per week;
— Waged, non-family employees should have four days off every 28 days; and
— Minimum wage should apply to waged, non-family farm and ranch employees, except those who work in primary production like greenhouses, nurseries, sod farms and mushroom farms.

The Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) responded to the release of the working group’s report by urging the provincial government to implement strong basic rights protections and regulations for all farm and ranch workers.

“We are calling on the government to show continued leadership in standing up for some of Alberta’s most vulnerable workers by enacting employment standards that stand up for Alberta’s farm and ranch workers,” AFL president Gil McGowan said from Edmonton. “Given that the vast majority of agricultural workers in Alberta are not unionized, whatever regulations are put in place for the Employment Standards Code will serve as the basic floor of minimum rights for most Albertans working in the agriculture sector.”

McGowan also raised concerns on three recommendations: expanding paid, non-family youth employees in the industry for 12- and 13-year-olds; adding new exemptions for primary production like greenhouses; and exempting employment standards for family members who work on farms.

“When you allow kids that young to work for pay, it is a suggestion that they should be able to do potentially dangerous jobs such as operating heavy machinery,” McGowan suggested. “Our concerns about this are primarily about safety — we have to keep our kids safe.”

The provincial government said it would start drafting legislative amendments based on the recommendations and public feedback received.