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New Manitoba Employment Standards Code Cause for Concern on the Farm

by 5m Editor
16 February 2008, at 3:50am

CANADA - Agricultural organizations in Manitoba are expressing concern over proposed changes that will expand the scope of the province’s Employment Standards Code to cover most agricultural employees.

Code Outlines Minimum Protections for Non-Unionized Workers

The Employment Standards Code outlines the minimum standards employers and employees not covered by collective agreements must meet in their working relationship. It covers most employees under provincial jurisdiction.

Proposed amendments, scheduled to take effect June 30, 2008 represent the first change dealing with agricultural workers since 1957.

Manitoba Labour and Immigration Minister Nancy Allan says the new provisions modernize protection for most agricultural workers.

“The new regulation balances the positions of employers and labour and is the first significant change in over 50 years,” she says. “It provides many of the same basic protections that Manitoba workers in almost every other industry now take for granted while recognizing the need for flexibility.”

Agricultural Changes Follow 2006 Revisions for Other Sectors

The code was revised in June 2006 based on recommendations contained in a Labour Management Review Committee report but, because of the unique nature of agriculture, agricultural workers were exempted from the changes at that time pending further consultation.

Protections Applied According to Classification

Under the changes planned to take effect this coming June agricultural workers will be designated according to four classifications, farm workers employed on farm by the farmer; farm workers in climate controlled facilities; farm workers employed by family members; and agricultural service company workers who provide services to farms.

There are 14 provisions under the code. Three, including equal wages, payment of wages and employment records, already apply to all workers, including farm workers.

Once the new code takes effect, provisions dealing with minimum wage, termination notice, child employment, vacations, weekly day of rest, work breaks, unpaid leaves, restrictions on payroll deductions, hours of work/overtime, reporting pay, and holidays will be extended to include farm workers in climate controlled facilities and agricultural service company workers who provide services to farms.

Farm workers employed on farm, such as on a grain or vegetable farm, will be exempt from provisions dealing with hours of work and overtime, reporting pay and holidays.

Farm workers employed by family members will be exempt from all but the basic three provisions.

Employee Classifications Create Uncertainty

“This is fairly complex,” observes Keystone Agricultural Producers (KAP) president Ian Wishart.

KAP, in association with its member commodity organizations, has been consulting with government on the issue for the past two years.

Wishart acknowledges the need for the labour standards to be updated and notes, while industry is already on side with many of the changes, there are points of concern.

“One particular point, where they wish to divide the industry based on climate controlled environments, we were not on side with. We see that as a very arbitrary division of the industry, not just sector by sector but the industry as a whole. It’s very confusing.”

Wishart explains that some operations will end up with different workers covered by different standards.

“You would end up with two sets of labour standards on individual farms or, in some cases, one farm impacted and the one down the road not and that gives competitive disadvantages to that particular farm. We don’t want to see that. We clearly prefer the option of dealing with the industry as a whole and not dividing it.”

Wishart notes there are also unresolved issues related to harvest exemptions for grain and oilseed producers that will need to be worked out prior to spring planting.

CFIB Calls for Status Quo

A Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) survey of its agribusiness members in Manitoba showed 60 percent believed bringing the Employment Standards Code to agriculture would harm their businesses.

Acting provincial affairs director for Manitoba Janine Halbesma points out, “Certain industries, like pork for example, have been having a really difficult time lately with high input and feed prices. The government is adding on an additional regulatory burden. Industries like grain, for example, are just starting to see a light at the end of the tunnel. The government has moved quickly to dim that light and add an extra burden to those sectors.”

Halbesma stresses, in rural Manitoba, the shortage of labour is a major concern for employers and given that context, they’re doing everything they can to be fair and flexible so that they can attract and retain staff.

“We would love to see government abandon these plans and go back to how it has been. Many of the exemptions were in there for good reason and we’d like to see that maintained,” she says.

New Code Expected to Attract Workers to Agriculture

The Labour and Immigration Minister argues these kinds of protections will help the agricultural employers attract workers to their industry.

“We’ve been told a lot of them were losing workers to Alberta and other sectors of our economy. We want to make sure workers are paid fairly and paid as other workers are in other industries so the playing field is level and they’ll be able to attract more workers.”

Allan observes a lot of agricultural employers do treat their workers well and understand the issue around the labor market shortage. She believes a lot of the changes basically reflect what is already occurring in many of the workplaces.

Pork Producers Seek Further Clarification

Manitoba Pork Council will be looking to the Department of Labour and Immigration for clarification on how the provisions will be applied to different workers on the farm.

Workers in the hog industry, for the most part, will be designated under the category, “Farm workers in climate controlled facilities.”

“This is all new to the agricultural sector and it’s going to take some time for everybody to understand how these provisions are going to work,” says Manitoba Pork Council general manager Andrew Dickson.

He points out live animals have to be fed every day. They have needs that don’t fit within a 9:00 to 5:00 day. Even within the standards there are variations allowed and that’s what needs to be worked out with the department of labour.

“If you’re pumping out manure there are certain time periods when you can do this. It’s very weather related. People have to work long hours in order to get the job done properly and meet environmental regulations. You can’t just stop the pumps at 5:00 o’clock and everybody disappears. These things have to be worked out.”

Dickson hopes to have some further clarification within the next couple of months.

“One of our positions is that we need to sit down with the appropriate staff from the department of labour and see how we’re going to be able to apply these standards and not disrupt business, the harvest or care of animals and so on.”

Code Designed to be Flexible

“The code is quite flexible,” says Raymond MacIsaac, the Manager of Proactive Services with Employment Standards.

He acknowledges, if it’s in a climate controlled facility, things like overtime and general holidays do apply. But, even then, the employer is the one that controls scheduling and controls much of the employment relationship. And there’s a great degree of flexibility built right into the code that allows all employers to deal with the unique circumstances of their businesses.

Allan recalls, when changes were made to the code almost two years ago, one of the industries looked at was the landscaping industry.

“Let’s face it, that industry is much different than others because obviously it’s governed by the seasons and the weather. You need some flexibility for those kinds of industries that are very similar to farmers trying to take their crops off in the summer time.”

Allan agrees with the need for further dialogue.

“We’re really going to work with the industry stakeholders to make sure that, if they require further information in regards to any flexibility that is in the code, we can work with them and work some of these things out as we proceed to the implementation date.”

Those with Questions Invited to Contact Labour and Immigration

MacIsaac agrees, “There’s a fair bit of flexibility built right into the code that sometimes needs some one-on-one explanation.”

He encourages those with questions about the code to call toll free at 1 800 821-4307 or visit manitoba.ca/labour/standards.

“We are here as a service to help people who are affected by these changes understand what their rights and their responsibilities are,” he says.

5m Editor