Labour relations: Farm and ranch legislation

Labour relations coverage is being extended to agriculture workers following broad consultation with the industry.


Labour relations sets out the standards for relationships between employers and employees in unionized workplaces. This includes joining a union, collective bargaining, rights of employers and employees, disputes, prohibited practices and various mechanisms in place to assist parties and settle disputes.

Alberta is the only jurisdiction in Canada where farm and ranch employees do not have any form of labour relations coverage.

The Supreme Court of Canada recently ruled that all workers must have the right to form unions, bargain collectively and take legal job action.

Excluding farm and ranch workers from Alberta’s Labour Relations Code has been unconstitutional. In order to comply with the Supreme Court ruling:

  • changes Alberta’s Labour Relations Code will take effect Jan 1, 2018
  • Public Emergency Tribunals for the agriculture industry came into effect June 7, 2017

Farmers and ranchers were consulted through technical working groups to provide direction.

Who’s affected?

Labour relations provisions for agricultural workers are meant to capture traditional employer/employee relationships. Owners and managers are not normally considered to be employees, nor are volunteers, and therefore they cannot form a union.

Only waged, non-family members will be able to unionize and collectively bargain.

Under these rules, it is not mandatory for waged, non-family employees to join or form a union. The changes only ensure waged, non-family farm and ranch workers have the same Charter-protected rights as the rest of Canada’s workforce to join or form a union, if they so choose.

Changes coming Jan 1, 2018

Waged, non-family employees

In order to comply with the Supreme Court of Canada ruling, waged, non-family employees will have the right to unionize and set up bargaining units with their employers.

Each bargaining unit must be comprised of employees working for one employer only.

Bargaining / dispute resolution

Eligible employees who form bargaining units within existing union organizations, or who form their own unions, will be able to bargain with their employers.

Services are available to aid organizations with their process, including mediators and arbitrators to assist employers and unions in resolving disputes. Strikes and lockouts will be allowed.

Public Emergency Tribunals can be put in place if a potential labour dispute threatens crops or livestock.

Unionization in the agricultural sector

Unionization is allowed in all other provinces, except Ontario. In Ontario, agriculture workers are covered by the Agricultural Employees Protection Act for labour.

Historically, unionization in the agricultural sector in Canada is low – 2.6% in 2016. The rate of unionization for all industries in Canada was 28.4% in 2016.

There have been no recorded strikes or lockouts in the agriculture sector in other provinces.