Preparation for Mandatory Inclusion Urged

by 5m Editor
30 August 2008, at 6:58am

CANADA - Manitoba farmers who hire non-family members to work on the farm are being told to brace for increased expense, added paperwork and, in some cases, reduced coverage when mandatory participation in workers compensation is extended to a wider range of employers.

Effective January 1, 2009 the province will expand the number of industries required to provide coverage for their employees through the Workers Compensation Board (WCB).

The change is the result of a 2005 report, compiled by labour and management representatives of the Labour Management Review Committee (LMRC), who reviewed the Workers Compensation Act and recommended that coverage of work places be extended.

No Fault Coverage Benefits Employees and Employers

“The WCB insurance system is historic in Manitoba,” states Nancy Allan, Manitoba’s Labour and Immigration Minister and the minister responsible for the Workers Compensation Board. “It provides workers with benefits and salary replacement and, regardless of who is at fault it provides employers with immunity from law suites in the event a worker is injured. It’s no fault insurance.”

Allan estimates 7,500 additional employers and 30,000 more workers will come under the WCB umbrella.

“One of the largest industry sectors is the agricultural industry,” she says.

Although some farm workers are covered under workers compensation, Allan estimates there are about 4,600 employers that don’t have WCB coverage.

Many Agricultural Operations Access Coverage Through Private Insurance

Keystone Agricultural Producers (KAP) president Ian Wishart notes that while the program has been available to agricultural employers in Manitoba on an optional basis for some time, and while some farms have been picking it up, it’s difficult to get a really good number.

“We did survey some of our members and it would appear that, of those that had non-family members as employees, roughly 15 percent were using workers compensation. And then another relatively small percentage were using private industry programs that provided some coverage as well.”

Private Insurance Offers Superior Protection

Manitoba Pork Council chair Karl Kynoch acknowledges that some pork producers are providing protection for their employees through Workers Compensation but, he stresses, most agricultural employees are covered through private insurers.

“They get more coverage for less money,” he says.

For example, he notes, private insurers provide long term disability coverage, dental plans, plans for glasses and plans to cover other medical expenses.

“They’re not just covered when they’re at work. They’re also covered when they are off of work. They could be gone playing hockey and they’re covered,” he points out.

Kynoch fears employees will end up losing some of their benefits because the Workers Compensation Board only covers them while they’re at work.

Spin off Benefits of Compulsory WCB Coverage Possible

Wishart acknowledges the changes will certainly result in additional costs and extra paperwork. However on the positive side, he suspects the changes will help attract larger numbers of workers into agricultural careers.

He believes the changes to Workers Compensation combined with the new farm labour standards will mean agriculture will have much more in common now with non farm labour situations.

He explains it’s been a challenge for many farmers to find labour so programs like the WCB can play a role in encouraging people to look at working on a farm as an option.

“If we offer a reasonable package, that might attract more labour back to the farm.”

Family Members Exempt from the Requirements

Family members who are hired to work on the farm will be excluded from the new requirements.

Wishart notes, that exemption is consistent with the new Labour Standards code introduced in July, which also excludes family members who are employed on a farm.

“If you were an employee that wasn’t covered under this new Labour Standards Code, you’re probably not going to be required to be covered under workers compensation.”

Kynoch considers that to be fairly significant. “For a lot of the small farms, the family-operated farms, if they’re not bringing in labour, they will still have free choice whether to go through private insurance. That’s fairly positive for those farms.”

The definition of “family member” still needs to be clearly outlined. Wishart notes that the definition used in the Labour Standards Code identifies any blood relative as eligible to be classified as a family member. And that there is also a clause that extends the designation to anyone treated as family.

“It’s really important, I think, to get this particular piece of the regulation correct,” says Allan.

She notes the consensus definition recommended for the employment standards code by the employer and the employee stakeholders on the LMRC will probably be the guideline that will be used.

“We’re going to consult with the producers and the commodity groups to look at what the definition of family member means so we know who will be excluded.”

Pork Producers Call for Flexibility

Kynoch says pork producers would like to see government allow producers the option of maintaining the insurance they are using now, especially insurance that is either equal to or better than what the Workers Compensation Board is offering and for less money.

“We would really like to see the government allow those producers to continue to use their private insurance.”

Wishart encourages farmers that think they’re going to be part of this new requirement to make themselves familiar with the rules and regulations.

He also encourages greater participation in farm safety programs that will help reduce the risk of accidents. “At this time of year when we’re all very busy we all have to be aware of safety and we certainly want to minimize accidents on the farm.”

5m Editor