AFL study slams B.C.-Alberta labour agreement

A new study released by the Alberta Federation of Labour says the Trade Investment and Labour Mobility Agreement (TILMA) will dumb down trade qualifications. The study claims the agreement opens the door to "watered-down trade qualifications" of Alberta workers to meet lower B.C. standards.

"We see this as a TILMA-triggered race to the bottom in the areas of professional and skilled labour qualifications," said Gil McGowan, federation president. "It's clear this isn't really a deal about trade or investment. It's setting the stage for dumbing down ... getting the job done with lesser qualified employees."

The implications of this should concern everyone, he said. He wondered "do you really want your homes to be built by someone with lower qualifications?"

The federation is sending copies of the study to all Alberta MLAs and asking the province to rescind the legislation.

McGowan pointed out there is an intent in TILMA to harmonize requirements for 50 Alberta occupations, mostly in the construction industry, currently exempt from TILMA because of higher standards. He's skeptical of the outcome, saying it will be a harmonizing down rather than up to the higher Alberta standards.

"That's bad news for both workers and the public," he added. "We should always be pushing for the highest possible occupation requirements, no matter which province they come from," he said.

"The last time I checked, there were no border guards stopping people or goods going between the two provinces," said McGowan. "We question the entire rationale (for TILMA). There already is free trade between the two provinces."

Danielle Smith, the director of provincial affairs in Alberta for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, says she didn't see anything in the agreement that Alberta standards are going to erode.

"I don't believe any government is going to allow that kind of erosion because public support isn't going to be behind them for it," she observed.

Smith noted the real agenda here is to protect the local labour market.

"When the unions are able to restrict the number of people who can come into this market then it creates shortages and it bids up wages," she said.

Someone who's a certified funeral director, for example, in B.C., should be able to move seamlessly into the same career here. "If there are barriers in the way that are preventing that, I think the government has an obligation and a duty to strip those down and I think that's what workers want," said Smith.

Saying the agreement is to ease trade and labour movement between the two provinces, she cited truckers hauling hay who had to stop at the B.C.-Alberta border to reload to meet some new rules in B.C. "Those are the kinds of silly things they're trying to sweep out of the way," said Smith.

The summary of the study, prepared by Steven Shrybman of the law firm Sack Goldblatt Mitchell in Ottawa, describes TILMA as "an instrument for de-regulation" with a corrosive influence on employment-related standards that will be weakened and undermined in both provinces. The study was also critical of the lack of public consultation and legislative debate in its creation. With the predicted impacts on many spheres of public policy and law, it concluded both provinces should reconsider their commitment to such a "draconian and unwarranted constraint on the exercise of public and democratically determined authority."

Fort McMurray Today, Page A3, Tues July 17 2007
Byline: Carol Christian

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