Dr. Swann Debates Bill 17 – Fair and Family-friendly Workplaces Act (Committee of the Whole) – 31 May 2017

Taken from the Alberta Hansard for Wednesday, May 31, 2017.

Bill 17 – Fair and Family-friendly Workplaces Act (Committee of the Whole)

Dr. Swann: Thank you very much, Mr. Chair. I’m very pleased to stand and speak to an amendment to the Fair and Family-friendly Workplaces Act, Bill 17, and will circulate the amendment.

The Acting Chair: This will be referred to as amendment A5. Please proceed.

Dr. Swann: Thanks very much, Mr. Chair. Well, I’m pleased with almost all aspects of this act, but this is one of the issues that I think either the minister has overlooked or has been subject to strong lobbying by the agriculture coalition, by some of the large landowners and industrial agriculture operations.

I would hope that we might consider paying overtime to people who work overtime. It’s a basic principle of employment. It oper-ates in all other industries. Indeed, we made significant progress with Bill 6 in getting some basic health and safety rights and workers’ compensation and recognized farm workers as equal to all other workers in this country. I applaud the government for finally bringing that good legislation in. I therefore was a bit shocked to see exemptions for overtime for farm workers, when exploitation has been the history of farm workers for a hundred years, and clearly it’s going to continue in some, not all, workplaces where there is unethical or exploitive leadership. By exempting farm workers from this overtime pay, it’s a clear indication that the agriculture coalition has had a lot of influence in the working groups. In fact, I know they’ve dominated some of the working groups and softened the right to equal treatment in the workplace for paid farm workers.

The opportunity here is to recognize that these rights under both our Constitution in Canada and as part of the charter of human rights, which gives all workers the right to a safe workplace, to compensation for injury . . . [interjection] Who’s whistling?

Mr. Cooper: Sorry.

Dr. Swann: I don’t need that. Thanks. I’m having enough of a time concentrating.

. . . the opportunity to recognize these rights and not treat them as second-class employees. It’s disappointing, and it’s certainly unjust. It’s saying that some workers are more equal than others.

Now, I recognize that farm work is different, that ranch work is different, and that it indeed may be reasonable to expect farm workers to work a 10-hour day and not expect overtime, but when we get beyond 10 hours in a day or over 60 hours in a week, surely we could recognize overtime as we do in other workplaces. I doubt that there’s a single person in this Legislature that would not expect to be paid a fair overtime wage when it got to over 10 hours in a day or 60 hours in a week. I really doubt that any of us would feel fairly treated if the boss said: sorry; you’re going to just have to work overtime and accept regular pay. That opens the door to exploitation. It opens the door to increased injuries and accidents when people are fatigued. When they feel unjustly treated, they’re going to be rankling and stressed and not feeling good about themselves or their workplace, and that is not good for anybody.

It’s understandable that change is challenging in the ag sector. Paid farm workers are already exempt from time-off provisions under this bill. They don’t get the same time-off provisions in a week or in a month. They’re exempt from that. Surely, then, we could recognize significant overtime, beyond 10 hours a day and beyond 60 hours a week. That seems pretty fundamental, especially to a government that talks about equal pay for equal work and human rights in the workplace. They certainly have championed that for unionized workers, and I know they believe that all citizens should have the right to form unions. These are some fundamental rights that we fought and died for over generations here, and we’re now finally dragging the agriculture sector into the 21st century on these issues. Giving them second-class status as far as hours of work and overtime is disappointing, and I hope that the minister can find a way to acknowledge in this bill that something has to be addressed in terms of overtime, even if not the usual over eight hours of work in a day or 44 hours in a week. Let’s at least compromise a bit and extend the right of agriculture operations to only start paying overtime after 10 hours in a day and 60 hours in a week. That’s not a big sacrifice to the industry.

I’ve made my pitch, Mr. Chair, and I think that all fair-minded people will see the wisdom of this not only in terms of health and safety but in fairness and just treatment of paid farm workers. I’m not talking about family members. I’m not talking about extended family members. I’m only talking about those who are hired to do a job as they would be hired to do a job in any other sector of society and have a reasonable expectation that if they’re pushed beyond 10, 12, 14 hours a day, which I know many farms require at certain times of the year, they should be paid reasonably and, if not equitably with other jurisdictions, at least get some recognition that overtime requires extra recognition.

Thanks, Mr. Chair.