The AgCoalition is expressing concern over the Government of Alberta’s process in introducing the Fair and Family-friendly Workplaces Act (Bill 17). Introduced on May 24 and passed earlier [Tuesday], Bill 17 has the potential to seriously disrupt the agriculture sector’s unique culture of cooperation and family-style relationships between employees and employers.
Bill 17 includes a number of wide-ranging provisions designed to make changes to Alberta’s employment standards process and labour codes, including provisions that give farm and ranch workers the right to form a union.
The introduction of Bill 17 comes only months after the conclusion of a lengthy government consultation process to develop provisions under Bill 6 – the Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act – many of which are now irrelevant under the new legislation. Additionally, in many cases where subject matter does align between Bill 6 and Bill 17, the new legislation ignores several recommendations that came out of the consultation sessions.
“The Bill 6 consultation process saw many farmers and ranchers work tirelessly alongside other consultation participants to develop recommendations that would work at the farm and ranch level,” said Kent Erickson, AgCoalition Chair. “The government’s process to introduce Bill 17 is inconsistent with this work and introduces new provisions that may not be manageable for the agriculture industry.”
Without additional consultation, it is impossible to determine the appropriateness of the new provisions under Bill 17 for the agriculture industry. Changes to Alberta’s labour laws are of particular concern. The right to unionize not only jeopardizes the agriculture industry’s unique culture of cooperation, but could also result in unnecessary pressure on the employee to unionize since Bill 17 does not include the democratic right to vote using a secret ballot in some instances.
“Unionization on farms and ranches could seriously harm the viability of this sector. It’s part of the agriculture community’s culture to treat farm and ranch employees like family. But if employees feel pressured into unionizing, a strike could result in animal welfare issues and irreversible damages to crops,” Erickson added.
Many of the legislative changes under Bill 17 will not take effect until January 2018. The AgCoalition has compiled a summary of Bill 17 as it relates to the agriculture sector. The summary can be viewed online here.