Tuesday, July 5, 2016
Bill 6: Take it up with the government...
There is significant opposition among many farmers to many of the workplace rules outlined in the Employment Standards Code. How, ask some farmers, are you going to apply maximum hours of work during a grain harvest when bad weather threatens the crop? (The assumption underlying this particular question is that saving the crop is more important that the health and safety of the paid workers.)
Since this is an area of interest to me, I follow a number of discussion groups where most posters are opposed to Bill 6. Last week there was an interesting note posted by an administrator in one of the groups saying (and I’m paraphrasing since the group is private) “we won’t be posting specifics of employment disputes between workers and farmers; those disputes should be addressed with the appropriate government agency.”
A private discussion group can most certainly have whatever content rules it wants. The interesting thing here is that a moderator of a group sharply opposed to government intervention in farm employment practices suggesting that employment disputes should be resolved… by seeking help from the government (which is, due to the opposition of farmers, not at presently available).
I very gently pointed this out (I try to minimize my posts to providing information), noting that the continuing exclusion of farm workers from the Employment Standards Code means that, when there are disputes, the resolution options available to workers basically boil down to suing or shaming (that latter, I assume, being the intent of the workers who wanted to reveal disputes on the group).
One (unstated) implication is that placing farm workers under the ambit of the Employment Standards Code provides a low cost and relatively quick way to resolve such disputes. There was, shall we say, “limited interest” in this perspective among those discussion group members who responded. This discussion thread has since been deleted by the moderators.
Yet the reflexive “let the government fix it” nature of the original post strikes me as somehow important. Despite the opposition to Bill 6, deep down, is there an undercurrent of “let the government fix it” when sticky issues arise?
It will be interesting to see the degree to which Bill changes are accepted over time. Thinking back to the late 1980s, many Alberta farmers were vehemently opposed to mandatory seat belt laws. Resistance to that has faded. Perhaps we’ll see a similar trajectory with employment rights for farm workers?
-- Bob Barnetson