Don Allan was trying to persuade his audience that Manitoba’s new provincial employment standards increase protection for employees working in agriculture. But one producer was having none of it.
“It’s not equal between the employee and the employer,” the man insisted. “Workers have more rights than the employer. It’s ridiculous.”
Overall, though, his was one of the few voices of dissent at Allan’s presentation during the recent Manitoba Ag Days.
Most farmers, although some grudgingly, recognize extending employment standards to agriculture is the right thing to do, according to Ian Wishart, Keystone Agricultural Producers president.
“This puts our industry on a par with other industries and makes us possibly more attractive as a career choice,” Wishart said later. “We are having a lot of trouble finding farm help.”
Extending labour standards to agriculture has been a hot button issue for some since the Manitoba government revised the province’s Employment Standards Code last year. Historically, agriculture was exempt from provincial labour standards.
But for many people working on farms, the changes which took effect June 30, 2008 are minimal, explained Allan, a Manitoba Labour and Immigration employment standards officer.
The Employment Standards Code recognizes four types of agricultural employees: family members working on a farm, general farm workers, agricultural service providers and workers in climate-controlled facilities.
All code provisions now extend to people hired to work in climate-controlled facilities, such as greenhouses and some poultry, hog and dairy barns.
But family members working on a farm are exempt from most minimum standards, as are general farm workers.
Previously, such workers had only three protections: equal wages for men and women, promised rates of pay and employment records.
Now, general farm workers are covered by the code except for four major exemptions: overtime, hours of work, general holidays and wages for reporting to work.
As for agricultural service providers (e. g., custom sprayers, chicken catchers, manure handlers), they are covered by all provisions of the code, Allan said.
Wishart said most farmers employing more than three or four workers were already following standards and for them, it’s no big deal.
“The guys who have maybe
one or two employees and never formally did a lot of these things before – probably had a much more personal relationship with their employees – are kind of wondering why it’s necessary.”
The biggest change for them is the extra paperwork, now that employment records are mandatory, said Wishart.
The fact that the new provisions took effect halfway through the year didn’t help, he said. Producers had already drawn up their operating budgets for the year and had to revise them.
Wishart said the provisions could have been worse if KAP hadn’t lobbied for and received a broad exemption for farm families.
Farmers will also be relieved to learn they don’t have to pay general farm workers for overtime.
Overall, KAP feels the regulations are workable and will benefit the industry, said Wishart. “We felt that it was a necessary step for the industry to take. And it is the law of the land.”