Bill 17: Farm workers’ right to unionize bad for both farms and employees

The provincial government’s move to grant farm workers the right to form a union, known as Bill 17, raises concerns about the legislation’s impact on farms and ranches.

While the Alberta Agriculture Farm and Ranch Safety Coalition (AgCoalition) and Alberta’s agriculture industry understand the importance and value of many of these changes in the law, they do not feel the application of the labour code to farms and ranches will result in more healthy, fair or safe workplaces.

In a previous blog post, we presented the straight facts on Bill 17 and unionization in Alberta’s agriculture industry. Now, here is the industry’s perspective on how Bill 17 could affect agriculture in Alberta:

Changes that will affect farmers and ranchers

Alberta’s revised Labour Relations Code will apply to the agricultural sector, and will give waged, non-family employees the ability to unionize — if they choose — and to bargain collectively.

The maximum duration of a union drive has been expanded from 90 days to 180, giving employees and union representatives a much longer period to organize and recruit union membership.

If more than 65 per cent of employees demonstrate an intention to join, a vote is not necessary to certify a union.

The negative impact of unionization  

This hybrid certification process would rob employees of their democratic right to a secret ballot and could result in undue pressure on an employee, either from union representatives or fellow employees, to support unionization. Extensive research shows employees are more honest about their feelings towards unionization when given the opportunity to make the decision privately.

If more than 40 but less than 65 per cent of employees demonstrate an intention to join, a secret ballot vote must be held.

The 65 per cent threshold, combined with the lack of a minimum number of employees required to form a union, could put smaller operations at a particular disadvantage. For example, an operation with three employees could unionize almost immediately — without the knowledge of all employees or the employer — should two employees sign a union card.

The bill proposes to exclude family members from the Labour Relations Code, and will allow government to appoint a Public Emergency Tribunal (PET) to end a dispute and arbitrate an agreement, if a strike or lockout could harm livestock or damage crops.

While the formation of a PET would protect crops and livestock, it could take a long time for a tribunal to form and make a decision, allowing for potential damage to crops and livestock. Removal of the right to strike/lockout would avoid this situation altogether.

Even though it was strongly opposed by agriculture industry members, Bill 17 also introduced first contract arbitration. This type of legislation will damage the industry’s employer-employee relationships and excludes the farming/ranching community from participating in the resolution process.

The government’s Fair and Family-Friendly Workplaces Act information page provides more information on the changes proposed under Bill 17. The AgCoalition has also written an analysis of Bill 17 (PDF.)

And check out this Edmonton Journal op-ed by Ken Kobly, president and CEO of the Alberta Chambers of Commerce for a look at how damaging Bill 17 could be to the economy.

6 straight facts about Bill 17, unions and farms

The provincial government is proposing changes to Alberta’s labour legislation that could have significant implications for employers and employees. Among the proposed changes are some that relate to the right to form a union.

Discussions about unionization can elicit emotional responses – both from those opposed and those in favour. That can make it hard to find an unbiased source of information, so on this week’s blog we’re providing the straight facts.

Here’s the low-down on the proposed changes:

Unionization on farms

  1. Alberta’s Labour Relations Code will apply to the agricultural sector, and will give wages, non-family employees the ability to unionize if they choose, and to bargain collectively.
  2. If more than 65 per cent of employees demonstrate an intention to join, a vote is not necessary to certify a union.
  3. If between 40 per cent and 65 per cent of employees demonstrate an intention to join, a secret ballot vote must be held for a union to be certified.
  4. The Labour Relations Board will have the authority to certify a union.
  5. There will be a short, mandated timeline for certification (or for certification to be revoked), for early determination of the 65 per cent threshold, and for an expedited vote if the threshold is not met. All votes will be on a set schedule.
  6. Specific amendments will exclude family members from the Labour Relations Code, and will allow government to appoint a Public Emergency Tribunal to end a dispute and arbitrate an agreement, if a strike or lockout could harm livestock or damage crops.

Other proposed changes related to farm operations

Unionization isn’t the only hot topic when it comes to unions and farms. Others include youth employment standards, guaranteed, job-protected leaves and more. Here are the changes that relate specifically to farm and ranch standards:

  • Family members will be exempt from all employment standards when working on the family farm.
  • Minimum wage and youth standards will apply to all waged, non-family employees.
  • All farm workers will be exempt from hours of work and overtime requirements.
  • Waged, non-family employees will be entitled to a day off or straight-time pay on general holidays, or a day off in lieu, and vacation pay will be calculated on total wages, rather than on a maximum of 44 hours per week.
  • If employer and employee can’t agree on days of rest, four days off must be provided for every 28 days worked.

The government’s Fair and Family-Friendly Workplaces Act information page provides more information on the changes proposed under Bill 17. And you can read the concerns expressed by the AgCoalition, here.

Budget 2017 and agriculture: 5 things you should know

A major mandate for the Alberta Cattle Feeders’ Association, and for the National Cattle Feeders’ Association (NCFA), is to represent our industry to the government. We work hard to keep the lines of communication open, and to provide valuable information about the challenges our members face, and how that affects Canadians.

The recent federal budget, announced on March 22, 2017, is a testament to that dialogue. To learn how the budget has addressed the needs of the agricultural sector, we spoke with Cathy Noble of Noble Path Strategic Consulting. Noble Path provides consulting services to NCFA.

“Not only did this budget demonstrate a renewed interest by the government in the agriculture and agri-food sector, but it also addressed many priority issues upon which NCFA has advocated including labour, research, trade, food safety and infrastructure.” said Cathy.

Five agricultural priorities addressed

Cathy outlined some of the most pressing priorities that were addressed in the 2017 federal budget, and the commitments made:

#1 Temporary foreign workers

The budget includes support for the Temporary Foreign Worker Program and the International Mobility Program, as well as amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to ensure that those immigration candidates who are most likely to succeed in Canada are granted express entry.

You can read more about why it’s so important for Canadian farmers to have access to temporary foreign workers in ‘Feeding the world: why the agri-food industry must be an economic priority.’

#2 Trade and market access

Reviews of, and investment in, rail service, gateways and ports will help Canadian producers get agri-food products to market. This will be boosted by the elimination of tariffs on many agri-food processing ingredients, strengthening the competitiveness of Canadian agri-food manufacturers both at home and abroad.

More trade commissioners will also be placed in strategic markets abroad to support this investment attraction, and new trade agreements with the European Union and Asia will be a boon for the economy as well.

To learn more about market access for Canadian beef, check out these posts on trade with the European market and Canada’s 58 most important beef export markets.

#3 Food Safety

Investments in core food safety inspection programming delivered by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Health Canada, as well as food safety regulations will help build Canada’s global reputation for the highest standards of food safety.

#4 Agricultural science and innovation

The Liberals have committed to investing $70 million over six years to support agricultural discovery science and innovation, with a focus on addressing emerging priorities such as climate change and soil and water conservation.

#5 Agricultural policy framework

The next agricultural policy framework will be launched in 2018 where federal, provincial and territorial governments will renew their commitments to investing in this critical sector. As part of the development of the next framework, governments will consider the ways in which innovation in agriculture can help strengthen the sector as a whole, enhance our value-added exports and create stronger, more well-paying jobs for Canadians.

The full budget can be found on the Government of Canada website. And check out ‘Five feedlot issues to watch out for in 2017’, to see how many made the budget.

Feeding the world: why the agri-food industry must be an economic priority

Canada’s agricultural industry has long been in a severe labour crisis. As young people move toward the cities, and rural populations age, our farmers struggle more and more to find the manpower they need to run their operations. Despite this labour crunch, agricultural production in Alberta is worth about $5 billion a year, so finding solutions for the people who produce our food is a top priority.

The Federal Advisory Council on Economic Growth recently recommended to the Federal Government that the agriculture and food sector be named a growth priority. This introduces opportunities for industry and government to come together in partnership to strategically remove growth constraints and leverage untapped potential. The labour shortage will be one of the high-impact issues to be addressed by action teams consisting of various stakeholders.

Why this matters

Canadian farmers will always try to employ Canadians first. But when they have positions that Canadians aren’t applying for, they must have access to alternative sources of labour. Only then can our farmers produce the high-quality food Canadians expect, and have the capability to supply a healthy export market.

Canada has an international reputation for high-quality food and exceptional food safety standards, and prioritizing growth will help secure our place as a global leader in the provision of top-quality, trusted agri-food products to the world.

Changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program

This is not the first ray of light that has been offered to this struggling industry. In December 2016, the Federal Government announced changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker Program that promise to help alleviate the labour shortage. Some of the changes include:

  • Removal of a rule stating that foreign workers could only work in Canada for four years at a time.
  • Changes to caps and exemptions.
  • A commitment to developing pathways to permanence for foreign workers.

How these changes support the Canadian Agriculture and Agri-Food Workforce Action Plan

The Canadian Agriculture and Agri-Food Workforce Action Plan is an industry-led ‘roadmap’ to help alleviate the labour shortage. The recommendation to make agri-foods a growth-priority industry supports the plan’s two main recommendations:

  • Increase the supply of labour to meet immediate and future requirements for skilled and unskilled workers.
  • Improve the knowledge and skills of workers to meet immediate and future labour requirements.

These recommendations also closely align with the Economic Advisory Council’s recommendations regarding a ‘FutureSkills Lab’ and represent immediate targets to support the agriculture industry on this front.

To learn more about Canada’s agriculture labour shortage, check out:

How technology could help agriculture’s labour crisis

As we’ve seen in earlier posts on this blog, Canada’s agriculture industry is experiencing a chronic labour crisis.

According to labour market information (LMI) research conducted by The Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council (CAHRC), the vacancy rate for on-farm jobs is seven per cent, which is the highest vacancy rate of any of Canada’s industry sectors. Read more

Agricultural labour shortage? How the industry is looking for a solution

Last week on this blog, we learned 12 facts about the agricultural labour shortage, and why it matters to Canadians. This week we’re going to take a look at some of the solutions being explored to help with this chronic crisis.

At the ACFA we have a variety of initiatives aimed to help with recruitment and retention, but there are many other programs in place aimed at helping solve the challenge. Here are three of them:

1. The Canadian Agricultural and Agri-Food Workforce Action Plan (WAP)

Supported by almost 70 agricultural associations, the WAP is a long-term strategy to address the issue of the chronic shortage of labour. Its stated goals include increasing the supply of workers, and also improving the knowledge and skills of workers.

“Communicating the labour shortage issue is part of the work of the Canadian Agriculture and Agri-Food Workforce Action Plan (WAP),” said Janet Krayden, stakeholder engagement specialist with the Canadian Agricultural Human Resource Council. “It’s important, because this work is essential to providing Canadians with food and it involves unique and special skills of workers.”

2. The temporary foreign worker program

Canadian farmers always employ Canadians wherever possible, but sometimes they simply can’t build a workforce large enough to run their operations. Often, the only way they can run efficiently is by supplementing their Canadian workforce with temporary foreign workers.

3. Career Connections

In an earlier post, we discussed Career Connections, an innovative educational program from Acme School, which is helping teach students about the opportunities available to them in their rural communities. You can read more in ‘How cattle feeders are helping create a future for young people in agriculture’.

Career connections farm tourThere is no simple solution to the labour crisis, in part because there is no simple cause. But, initiatives like these are all helping us deal with a chronic and worsening problem.

Stay tuned for future blog posts, as we will undoubtedly return to this important topic.

 

12 must-know facts about the agricultural labour shortage (and why it matters to Canadians)

Last week on this blog we talked about the labour shortage facing cattle feeders. This week we’re taking a more detailed look at how that affects Canadians. Read more

5 must-know facts about the Alberta Cattle Feeders’ Association

Cattle feeders

The Alberta Cattle Feeders’ Association (ACFA) has led the industry for more than four decades. We are the voice of cattle feeders who raise a substantial percentage of beef produced in Alberta.

Here, in five brief points, is a snapshot of who we are, what we do, and why you should be interested:

Read more

Temporary foreign worker program review — what it means to Alberta beef

When the Liberal government announced a review of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFW program) last week, the news caused little more than a ripple — but to the beef industry it’s a big deal.

Read more

The making of a cattle feeders’ association – major milestones in our history

 

Alberta cattle feeders

Photo courtesy of Glenbow Museum circa 1910

Alberta has a long history of producing the finest beef, and our feedlot operators are proud of the role they play in producing world-class quality. 

Alberta cattle feedlots

Photo credit Glenbow Museum “Start to Finish” circa 1953

In a previous post we explained who the ACFA is, and what we do. This week we’re going to share a short history of the Alberta feedlot industry and the birth of its association:

Read more