The (Sometimes Complicated) Rules that Apply to Farm Workers in Alberta.

AuthorSteingard, Jessica

In January 2020, the rules changed to exempt farm and ranch employees on small farms from employment standards laws.

Alberta's Employment Standards Code (and the Employment Standards Regulation) applies to most workers in Alberta. But it creates all kinds of exceptions for farm workers, including whether the rules even apply at all.

In November 2019, the UCP government introduced Bill 26: Farm Freedom and Safety Act. The Bill amended the Agricultural Operation Practices Act, the Employment Standards Code, and the Labour Relations Code. It included some of the rules described above, which came into effect on January 30, 2020.

Bill 26 meant to undo some of the changes to the agricultural industry first introduced by the NDP in 2015 through Bill 6: Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act, which was met with mixed reviews at the time. According to discussion in the legislature, the changes included in Bill 26 were made after "extensive consultations over months with agricultural stakeholders." Changes to the Employment Standards Code carved out exceptions for small farms and recognized greenhouses and nurseries as farms.

Let's start with a definition of farm and ranch employees. Then we'll look at which farm and ranch employees the Code does and does not apply to.

Who is a farm and ranch employee?

It is an individual employed by a farm primarily producing eggs, milk, grain, seeds, fruit, vegetables, mushrooms, sod, trees, shrubs, plants, honey, livestock, diversified livestock animals, poultry, or bees. Production can be in a greenhouse or nursery. An operation that produces cultured fish is included but cannabis production is not.

Which farm and ranch employees does the Employment Standards Code NOT apply to?

The Employment Standards Code does not apply at all to family members, volunteers, and workers on small farms. Let's call these exempted workers.

Family members include spouses, adult interdependent partners, children, parents, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, or first cousins. These family members can be shareholders, partners, or sole proprietors.

Volunteers include any unpaid workers, such as family, friends or neighbours helping out.

A small farm is one that employs five or less paid workers for more than six months. This limit of five workers does not include seasonal workers or family members. For example, a farm is a small farm if it pays five employees for six or more months of work. The farm may...

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