Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Labour law reform in Alberta

The past couple of weeks have seen quite a spirited debate about the merits of Alberta’s new farm safety bill (including protests and filibustering in the Legislature). The basic idea of Bill 6 was to grant paid Alberta farm workers the same workplace rights as every other worker. You can see my contribution to the discussion on the Parkland Institute’s blog.

Bill 6 is likely the first of a series of changes in Alberta’s employment law regime. I suspect we’ll see an announcement of a review of workers’ compensation, either before or shortly after Christmas. The government is also consulting on bringing Alberta’s labour legislation into compliance with the Supreme Court’s decision that the right to strike is constitutionally protected.

There may also be a fuller review of labour laws—the laws governing unionization and collective bargaining—at some point. You can read my thoughts on how the government might change the law to make easier for workers to exercise their associational rights on the Parkland Institute’s blog. You can also see the presentation at the Parkland conference that gave rise to this blog post here (plus a presentation on minimum and living wages by Ian Hussey):

-- Bob Barnetson


Unknown said...
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Unknown said...

Bob, Could you comment on how appropriate the legislative machinery is for drafting Codes and Regulations that will accompany the legislation? By appropriate I mean to answer the criticism that there has not been enough consultation with those affected by the legislation. I'm hoping you would draw the experiences as you understand them of other jurisdictions.

Bob Barnetson said...

Alberta periodically updates its OHS regulations. This often entails some sort of stakeholder committee that makes recommendations to the Minister. I imagine some sort of similar process here (since the tracks are laid, it is easy to run another train down them).

Presumably some of the various producers groups will be invited to participate in developing ag-specific OHS rules along with the federation of labour and some ministry staff and other experts. I would think there is enough technical capacity to do a creditable job.

Alberta's OHS Code (where the nitty gritty is laid out) is actually a Ministerial Order. What this means is that the Minister can change it on her own authority (rather than having to seek cabinet approval (for regulation changes) or legislative approval (to change an Act). I mention this because it allows a lot of flexibility. For example, regs could be rolled out piecemeal or amended relatively quickly if there is a problem.

The real issue is likely political. Many producers are going to balk at any regulation. If the regs are vague enough to allow flexibility in application, the government will get dinged for being imprecise (cue paranoid fantasies about gun grabs and whatnot). If the regs are super clear, the government will get criticized for not recognizing the variability associated with farm work.

That said, over time, those voices are going to become increasingly isolated as most people lose interest and the hard-core opponents become more shrill (an echo-chamber effect). So timing will be a factor as will the actual and perceived efforts to engage producers. But likely there will be a shit storm as the regs roll out no matter what.

Not sure that helps or was what you were looking for!