The new year means new rules for Alberta farms and ranches as the Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act has come into effect.
As a result, farms and ranches with paid farm workers who are not family members are required to have an open WCB account.
In an email to me, it says as of Christmas Day it had 1,680 farm and ranch related operations with an open account and they were anticipating additional accounts expected to be opened in the days that followed leading up to January 1st and many more in the early weeks of the new year. Farmers have until April 30th to sign-up for an account, while coverage for paid workers automatically came in to effect on January 1st.
The WCB says most of the questions they have received from farmers have focused on the cost of coverage and who needs to be covered.
A spokesperson for the WCB says education and ensuring farm and ranch owners understand their responsibilities under the Workers’ Compensation Act will be their focus during the initial stages of it being rolled out.
Operations are being asked to provide information about the business, including the legal and operating name, a description of the operations and estimated annual payroll amongst other things.
WCB says if any worker covered under the Act is injured at work on or after January 1st, 2016 they are protected by workers’ compensation, even if the farm owner had not yet opened a WCB account. Officials are warning there is the potential for penalties, as in other industries, if an operation, which requires WCB does not sign up for an account.
Bill 6 passed in the legislature in December, after a month of farmers and ranchers urging the government to ‘Kill Bill 6’ and send it back for further consultation. During this time, government information sessions on the legislation were heated and farmers and ranchers staged rallies on the steps of the legislature, in communities across the province and by traveling in large convoys of farm equipment on major highways across the province. Eventually the province would amend the bill and pass it just before the end of the Fall session.
As of January 1st, agriculture is also no longer exempt from the Occupational Health and Safety Act, the technical requirements of which are to be drawn up over the next year and come into effect in 2017 as well labour relations and employment standards are expected to come into effect this spring. The government is promising this will all happen after consultation with farmers, ranchers and industry groups.