The Province will not proceed to prevent a Preeceville ranching couple from having their children work with them in the family’s butchery on their mixed farm.
The story of Cool Springs Ranch went viral last week when Janeen Colvin ranted on Facebook about receiving a visit from Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) after a neighbour complained about the two Colvin girls and three other local children working in the shop on the farm approximately 135 kilometres northwest of Yorkton.
“We were a little shocked,” Colvin said. “It felt like a big backstab.”
Both Janeen and her husband Sam studied agribusiness and had worked in large commercial farming operations. Disenchanted with the industry, they specifically designed their operation to recreate their own childhood experiences of a mixed family farm raising chickens, pigs and cattle, butchering them onsite and selling directly to the consumer.
“There’s nothing more wholesome than working beside your family on a farm,” Colvin said. “I don’t think the spirit of the law was to dissolve this kind of situation.”
The problem is that under the Occupational Health and Safety Act children under 16 are not allowed be employed in meat, fish or poultry processing plants. Technically, as a licenced abbatoir, the Colvin’s butcher shop qualifies as such.
Janeen bristles at the characterization.
“It’s a pretty manual operation,” she said.
“There’s nothing unsafe about our operation.”
Don Morgan, minister of labour relations and workplace safety, agreed saying the OHS division is comfortable with the children, 10-year-old Kate and eight-year-old Emma, working in the butchery.
He said in interpreting the legislation there can be a “fine distinction” and “shades of gray” with respect to what constitutes a processing plant and who would be considered employees.
“We’re treating this as an extension of the family farm,” Morgan said, adding that having children working on the farm is a time-honoured Saskatchewan tradition. “It’s a learning experience for kids and I think it’s healthy for them.”
Although obviously relieved by the decision, Janeen said it does leave them with a bit of a problem because the three neighbour children will not be allowed to continue working for them.
“Two of them are my fastest workers, they won’t be easy to replace,” she said, adding that there are not many potential employees looking to work only a few hours a week. “The ironic part is we could do what we do in the front yard and it would be perfectly legal.”
The minister confirmed there is no way around classifying the other children as employees, but the Colvin girls will be exempt.
“I think we’re following a good common sense approach here,” he said.