TORONTO – Canada’s dairy industry is monitoring but so far not concerned about the decision by the country’s new Liberal trade minister to review the $4.3 billion in compensation it has been promised to help offset the impact of the Trans-Pacific Partn…
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EDMONTON – Some Alberta farm groups say they generally accept including agricultural employees under work and safety rules but are concerned about the fine print and how the NDP government is going to roll out the changes.
The province is currently the only jurisdiction in Canada without employment standards coverage for farm and ranch workers.
Many of the province’s 43,000 producers are worried about how the proposed legislation is going to affect their day-to-day operations, said Lynn Jacobson, president of the Alberta Federation of Agriculture.
“We need rules that apply to agriculture — the ones that apply to construction or oilfields — you just can’t move them over onto agriculture and expect to have a good result,” Jacobson said Wednesday from his grain and oilseed farm near Enchant, Alta.
“The people who the government hires to be inspectors have to have some knowledge of agriculture.”
The changes include making workers’ compensation board coverage mandatory for farm workers on Jan 1.
Alberta is one of four provinces without WCB coverage for farmers. The others are Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan, and Prince Edward Island.
The agricultural sector would also no longer be exempt from occupational health and safety (OHS) rules and would be subject to employment standards covering areas such as hours, vacation pay and minimum wages.
Jacobson said the government must ensure that farmers and ranchers understand the implications of the changes.
“We’d like to see a gradual implementation of the OHS changes, supported by extensive producer education and awareness,” he said.
The government plans to hold public meetings around the province about the bill and to phase in some of the regulations next year.
Rich Smith, executive director of Alberta Beef Producers, said it supports the idea of requiring producers to have baseline insurance coverage for employees but it does not support mandatory WCB coverage.
He said some producers already have such coverage and it hasn’t worked well.
Smith said awareness, education and training are the best ways to improve workplace safety on farms and ranches.
He said changes to employment standards should reflect the diverse nature of agricultural work.
“Legislative changes in themselves do not make workplaces more healthy and safe,” he said. “We hope that the government ensures that the changes to employment standards occur only after there has been sufficient consultation.”
Tom Steve, general manager of the Alberta Wheat Commission, said farmers take the safety of their families and employees very seriously.
He said most support ending the exemption from workplace rules and farmers want a say in the wording of regulations to help ensure they are relevant and practical.
“We are working with the government to implement these changes in a way that makes sense for our farms and our farmers,” he said.
Steve said it is important for farmers to attend town hall meetings to learn more about the changes.
Under the bill, Alberta investigators would be allowed to look into serious injuries or deaths on the commercial portion of farms.
The government says 25 people died from farm-related accidents in 2014 — nine more than the previous year.
MANILA, Philippines – Canada’s new Liberal trade minister says the $4.3-billion compensation package the previous Conservative government made to dairy farmers to counter any ill effects of the Trans-Pacific Partnership is not a done deal.
International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland said that package is under review, as part of the Liberal government’s promise to consult with Canadians on the massive 12-country Pacific Rim trade pact and put it to a vote in Parliament.
For now, she said her government is not bound by the compensation commitment of the Conservatives, which was made by its cabinet during the federal election campaign.
Freeland’s assessment came in Manila on Wednesday at the same Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation leaders’ summit where U.S. President Barack Obama made an impassioned pitch to the leaders of the 12 TPP countries — including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — to ratify the deal as quickly as possible.
The APEC gathering brought together all 12 TPP countries for the first time since the historic deal, which covers 40 per cent of the global economy, was announced on Oct. 5.
Freeland’s comments are not likely to be well received by the Canada’s dairy industry, which fought hard to protect its supply management system.
During the campaign, the Harper cabinet approved the $4.3-billion compensation package over 15 years to help the dairy industry cope with losses from the additional 3.25 per cent of foreign imports that Canada allowed under the TPP.
“We appreciate the importance of compensation to affected sectors,” said Freeland. “It would be very inappropriate for us to commit to specific packages given that we’re actually reviewing the agreement overall.”
Freeland said she had good conversations about the issue with Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains before leaving Canada.
“We are reviewing now what the compensation plans will be, and I am not going to make commitments for my fellow ministers who are back home in Canada.”
Freeland reiterated what the government has been telling its fellow 11 TPP partners in Manila: that it is pro-trade, realizes the importance of the deal to the Canadian economy, but that it made an election campaign promise to put the deal before the country.
She said she is also telling them “that the TPP was not negotiated by our government, it was negotiated by the previous government and our job now is to carefully review the text and consult.” Freeland said she is encountering “great understanding” of that position among its TPP partners.
In a statement later Wednesday, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce urged the federal government to seize the opportunity that Asian economic growth represents and ratify the deal as soon as possible.
“Canada is losing market share in the fastest-growing region of the world,” said chamber president Perrin Beatty.
“Turning this situation around requires an ambitious trade strategy that plays to our advantages in areas like energy, information and biotechnology, advanced manufacturing and agri-food. TPP covers all of these areas, and what we need to do now is to put it in place.”
Earlier in the day, Obama offered a more powerful statement on the need to get the TPP deal done once and for all at a luncheon for the pact’s leaders and trade ministers — which included Trudeau and Freeland.
“TPP is at the heart of our shared vision for the future of this dynamic region,” Obama said.
“Today, we’re going to discuss the road ahead to ensure that TPP is enacted in each of our countries as swiftly as possible. Obviously, execution is critical after we have arrived at the text.”
Obama called the pact “the highest standard and most progressive trade deal ever concluded,” citing its strong protections for workers, prohibitions against child labour and labour, and environmental protection — all of it enforceable.
“The politics of any trade agreement are difficult,” Obama noted.
“The fact that everyone here stepped up and made some hard decisions that are going to pay off for decades to come, I think is testimony of the vision that was reflected.”
Obama and Trudeau will have their first face-to-face meeting on Thursday during the final day of the APEC summit. In addition to the TPP, they will have a packed agenda that includes the war on Islamic militants, the refugee crisis and the fight against climate change.
Trudeau started his day of meetings with a roundtable with 15 Canadian business leaders that included Beatty.
“We know that trade is fundamentally good for Canada and for Canadians,” Trudeau told them. “We need to make sure that we’re connecting with the world.”
Beatty said he stressed two key priorities for the government: ratify TPP and “build the infrastructure that’s needed to get Canadian resources to our customers around the world.”
While there might be some daylight emerging between Canada and the U.S. on trade, Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion made it clear that the two countries were on the same page when it came to pushing for a binding climate change agreement at the Paris summit in two weeks.
Dion called climate change a “cancer” and pledged to work alongside the U.S. and France for a strong deal.
“To disassociate climate change and the economy, to have a classic discussion on the economy as if we didn’t have this problem, this relationship with the planet — it’s passe now.”
EDMONTON – Alberta is redrawing the rules on work and safety for 60,000 workers on farms and ranches across the province.
Jobs Minister Lori Sigurdson introduced legislation Tuesday making farms and ranches subject to Occupational Health and Safety rules.
Farm and ranch workers would also be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits if injured on the job.
There would be new rules on labour relations and employment standards covering areas such as hours, vacation pay, minimum wages, and the safety of young workers.
Workers will be able to join unions and bargain for wages.
They will be allowed to refuse unsafe work without having to fear being fired.
About 43,000 farming and ranching operations would be affected.
“This is a historic day for Alberta,” Sigurdson told the house as she introduced Bill 6, the proposed Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act.
“If (the bill is) passed, Alberta would join every other jurisdiction in Canada in applying workplace legislation to Alberta’s farms and ranches.”
Under the bill, Alberta investigators will be allowed to investigate serious injuries or deaths that occur on the commercial portion of farms.
Figures provided by the province showed that 25 people died from farm-related accidents in 2014 — nine more than the previous year.
The bill will require farm owners to buy mandatory insurance coverage for injured workers, whereas previously they could opt out.
The occupational health and safety provisions would cover anyone tasked to work on the farm, regardless of age, including a neighbour helping out for free.
Alberta is one of four provinces without mandatory workers’ compensation for farmers. The others are Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan, and Prince Edward Island.
Farms and ranches are currently exempt from employment standard rules when it comes to supervision, types and hours of work regarding children.
And Alberta is the only jurisdiction in Canada without any form of labour relations coverage for farm and ranch workers.
The regulations will be worked out following consultations in November and December and phased in.
However, farms and ranch workers will be protected by occupational health and safety rules as of Jan. 1. They will also be covered under workers’ compensation as of that date.
The legislation was promised but stalled for years under former Progressive Conservative governments.
Opposition Liberal Leader David Swann said the bill is long overdue and covers all the bases.
“I say hallelujah. Everybody is going to benefit from this,” said Swann.
He said Alberta farmers are already paying dearly for not having workers’ compensation insurance, saying that when there is serious injury or death on a farm, the farm owner pays another way — through civil court.
“These guys get sued and they go under,” said Swann.
The opposition Wildrose party said the bill is rushed and needs more consultation with farmers before becoming law.
Wildrose agriculture critic Rick Strankman said farmers “need to know what we are doing as legislators in Edmonton will not cause them undo harm through excessive regulation.
“The most important solution is education and having farmers come together, and a farmer-driven focus on solutions.”
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HALIFAX – Nova Scotia’s cranberry growers are days away from wrapping up a harvest that is expected to produce a record crop, an industry leader says.Blake Johnston, chairman of the Canadian Cranberry Growers Coalition, says the big yield comes at a go…
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