By Mark Wales, Director, Ontario Federation of AgricultureFor two years, the Ontario government consulted with employers and employees as part of the Changing Workplaces Review. Among the results of the review were significant amendments to the Employment Standards Act (ESA) and a recommendation to review job categories that have exemptions or special rules under the act.
The Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) was active throughout the review, participating in consultations, submitting recommendations and working with other industry representatives to ensure farm employers and their employees were fairly represented. It was critical for OFA to ensure the government understood the unique workplaces and labour requirements that exist on Ontario farms businesses.
Current exemptions under the ESA are available to the agricultural sector. The proposed review of the agricultural sector under the ESA has not been announced, and exemptions for farm employers will remain the same until the review happens.
OFA’s position throughout the Changing Workplaces Review emphasized the unique labour needs and conditions on farms.
Ontario’s farm workplaces are different. More than 200 different agricultural products are grown and raised in Ontario, easily making our agri-food industry the most diverse industry for employment and workplaces.
Agricultural production is a seasonal activity. Current exemptions and special rules under the ESA are necessary for farm employers to run businesses that often require seasonal employees, long hours during planting and harvesting seasons, and exposure to all of Ontario’s weather conditions. Ontario farm employers take the responsibility of these exemptions seriously and appreciate their employees who work long days on the farm when necessary and through critical periods during the growing and harvesting seasons.
Food products are highly perishable. In addition to the challenges of growing crops and managing employees through various seasons and climate conditions, many agricultural products are highly perishable with narrow windows for planting and harvesting. Many of the food products can begin to lose value almost immediately, creating a unique labour management situation when it comes to working with the weather and scheduling work days.
Agriculture works with the weather. Climate conditions and weather in general mean farm employers need a flexible approach to managing farm employers. Many farm employees and labourers work on Ontario farms because the work is so unique. Working outside in the natural environment, working with animals, operating high-tech equipment and the satisfaction of planting and harvesting a season’s crop make working in the agriculture sector so rewarding.
Technology is changing labour requirements. Like most industries, Ontario’s agri-food sector is becoming more mechanized, but many of Ontario’s farm products still require labour. People have and always will be the heart of growing and raising food. OFA does not believe an overly bureaucratic or exhaustive process to review agricultural exemptions under the ESA will change the labour needs of Ontario’s agriculture sector – because the nature of growing and raising agricultural products hasn’t changed.
When the ESA review is scheduled, OFA will continue to represent Ontario farmers and farm employees. We will push for a fair review that recognizes the complexity of our modern economy and emphasizes the fact that Ontario farm employers take the responsibility of these exemptions seriously. Any drastic or politically motivated changes to the ESA that are not evidence based will hurt farm businesses and the job opportunities they provide across rural Ontario.