By Kalinowski, Tim on June 13, 2018.
The provincial government released its much anticipated health and safety guidelines on youth paid labour on June 8 which proposed work categories and appropriate task guidelines to keep young workers safe in the workforce, however, the notable exception to these overarching guidelines pertained to youth working in the agriculture industry.
A release from Alberta Labour minister Christina Gray states, “On farms and ranches, waged, non-family youth age 13 to 15 can do any work that is not hazardous. The rules do not apply to family, friends and neighbours. Volunteering, babysitting, collecting eggs and doing farm chores are not considered employment and are not affected.”
Eric Musecamp, Farmworkers Union of Alberta president and founder, says the effect of these exemptions on youth work in the agriculture sector means the Alberta government has let politics override common sense.
“So there will be no statutory protection for youth and children employed under the family farm exemption,” he states. “That is a fairly big hole because that particular cohort is fairly highly represented in injury and fatality numbers in the ag sector. I think it was entirely politics to exclude them. They (the NDP government) are under the same pressure to exclude the family farm in general; so this is just another offshoot of that.”
Musecamp says the government should be using North American Guidelines for Children’s Agricultural Tasks (NAGCAT), which is the gold standard for defining safe work for farm kids. But barring that, Musecamp feels the government should be closer to UN guidelines on this matter.
“I think going forward we are going to have to move more closely to the UN standard to be viable participants in the world marketplace,” says Musecamp. “This exemption goes beyond just your kid working on your farm. They can also go work for your neighbours in exchange for help with your chores which are outside of any sort of labour standards. So no safety standards’ limit on hours worked, for example, or requirements for personal, protective equipment, safety training or anything. It is completely exempt.”
Labour minister Christina Gray defended the government’s decision to exempt kids doing work on farms from the broader standards brought in for every other industry in the province.
“It is very important to our government that we have workplace legislation that keeps workers safe and respects the farm and ranch way of life,” she says. “We definitely heard throughout the public consultation that any changes made to health and safety rules for farms and ranches have to make sense for farmers and ranchers. We need to be able to balance keeping farm workers safe and maintaining their unique way of life. We know ranchers and farmers are hard workers, and often so are their kids. The farm way of life means kids are on the farm doing chores, neighbours are helping, these are things this legislation does not change.”
Gray touted her government’s decision to create AgSafe Alberta and work with industry partners to enhance voluntary safety training for those working in the ag sector, including kids.
“We have really elevated the health and safety conversation throughout the industry,” she says. “We want to make sure we are identifying appropriate work throughout the province for children aged 12-14.”
Luree Williamson, CEO of Agriculture for Life, a non-profit organization which encourages a safer ag industry in Alberta, agrees the balance on this matter has to be right.
“Living and working on the farm teaches kids about responsibility,” she says, “and teaches them how to be connected to the environment and the animals. More responsibility allows for personal growth and development, and I think it is something special for kids who do have the opportunity to grow up on the farm. Having said that, safety training is an absolute must, and part of our messaging at Ag for Life is a reminder whether you have employees or family on the farm, or friends coming over to help, to always make sure you are addressing safety.”
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