12/01/2015 12:57 EST

Rachel Notley Says Alberta Farm Safety Bill Will Pass, Despite Criticism

Sean Kilpatrick/CP

EDMONTON — Alberta Premier Rachel Notley says a farm safety bill will pass in the legislature this month despite widespread criticism.

Notley, speaking Tuesday in a teleconference from the Paris climate change summit, said controversy over the bill has been caused by a communications problem and there's no issue with the proposed legislation itself.

"You can certainly be assured that the bill will pass this fall.''

Notley said misinformation partly came from her own officials as they explained the legislation to farmers and ranchers.

"I understand that some of the communication emanating from ministry officials may have confused that issue, and so we are going to take steps to make sure that is absolutely clear.''

The government will be clarifying the intent of the bill in coming days, she said. But Notley wouldn't say whether there will be any substantial amendments.

"What I want Alberta farmers to know is that their kids will be able to work on the farm as they always have,'' she said.

"And they will continue to be able to be educated on the farm through 4-H programs as they always have. I was a member of 4-H. I get this issue. I know what it looks like on the farm, and we have no intention of changing that.''

Labour Minister Lori Sigurdson told a radio talk show in Calgary that there will be amendments to make it clear farm kids and neighbours will still be allowed to work on family farms.

"This is really about paid workers and we assured (farmers) that that would be clear in the regulations. But they want us to add that to this bill and put it up front,'' said Sigurdson.

"We've been listening and so we're looking at creating some amendments to ensure that.''

Notley's government is under pressure from farm groups and opposition leaders to put the bill on hold pending further consultations with ranchers and farmers.

The legislation would extend workplace rules and standards to 43,000 farms and ranches and would affect 60,000 employees, who would also be eligible for workers' compensation benefits if they were injured on the job.

There would be new rules on labour relations and employment standards covering areas such as hours, vacation pay, minimum wages and the safety of young workers.

Workers would be able to join unions and bargain for wages. They would be allowed to refuse unsafe work without having to fear being fired.

There have been protests in recent days that have included demonstrations and lineups of farm equipment along highways. A protest on Monday brought 1,000 farmers and their families to the steps of the legislature.

Farmers fear the legislation would kill their farms by squeezing profit margins through excessive regulations. They also suggest it would rip the agricultural social fabric by not allowing children to help out on the farm.

Earlier Tuesday, the UFA farm co-operative joined those asking the NDP government to rethink timelines until confusion and concerns have been addressed.

The Opposition Wildrose party is urging the government to send the bill to committee for further discussion.

— With files from CHQR

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