The Alberta Federation of Labour expects 2003 to be a year of intense activity on the labour relations front. AFL President Les Steel points to high inflation and slow wage growth in the province fuelling higher wage demands as workers struggle to maintain their standard of living.
"November's inflation figure of 9.7% was a shock to most Albertans. We know that this figure was, to some extent, a statistical anomaly, but we also know that the province has the highest inflation rate in Canada, and that the deregulation of utilities has helped to push up the cost of living. Wages in the province aren't keeping up to increases in the cost of living, and if war in the Middle East causes oil prices to skyrocket, the increased energy revenues may be good for government finances, but the resulting inflation will be a disaster for ordinary working Albertans."
Figures released by the government show that average weekly earnings for Albertans are growing by about 2% per year. "We believe that when the final figures are in, the inflation rate in Alberta in 2002 will be more than twice that figure," said Steel. "There is no reason why, in an economy as strong as Alberta's, workers should continue to see their real earnings fall."
Steel says the AFL also expects more Albertans to seek union membership in the coming year. "A recent Statistics Canada study shows that union representation brings higher wages - over seven percent on average. It also tends to provide better benefit and pension coverage. Most importantly, perhaps, it gives workers the right to be treated with respect and dignity in the workplace."
"That's why union membership has been growing in Alberta, supposedly the most anti-union province in Canada; and that's why it will continue to grow.
Shaw Strike Exposes Flaws in Labour Law
Workers at the Shaw Conference Centre in Edmonton won a victory in November by negotiating their first collective agreement after a bitter seven month struggle against bad-faith bargaining and anti-union tactics.
The actions of Economic Development Edmonton, and the senseless prolonging of the strike is clear evidence of the need for improvements to the unfriendly labour laws in Alberta.
"Labour laws in this province fail to recognize that workers have the right to organize and bargain collectively. When workers freely choose to be represented by a union, as was the case with the Shaw workers, labour laws should facilitate the process, not act as a barrier to be overcome" said Steel.
The December 10, 2002 ratification of the Kyoto Protocol is an historic first step in addressing the issue of climate change. Throughout the debate on ratification, the AFL has supported Kyoto, and looks forward to continuing to work with all levels of government to ensure that workers and communities affected by necessary job shifts are protected by an effective just transition plan.
Kyoto will mean new jobs in new industries and is an ideal opportunity to diversify the Alberta economy away from its dependence on rapidly-depleting fossil fuels to ensure sustainable jobs for future generations of Albertan workers.
"Kyoto should be seen as a chance for Albertans to become leaders in the emerging industries which will drive the economy of the future" said Steel. "Countries around the world are making the shift already, and Alberta will be left behind unless this government starts seeing Kyoto as an opportunity rather than a threat."
Time for Romanow
With the release of the long-anticipated Romanow Report, Canadians have been given a clear choice about the future of Medicare. The AFL is calling for the quick and full implementation of the recommendations of Romanow by the Federal government.
Medicare is not only the right system, it is the smart system. Study after study proves that public healthcare has better results and is cheaper than for-profit delivery. Public healthcare protects families and is also a competitive advantage which makes Canada an attractive place to do business.
"Companies in Canada must recognize that if we go down the road of for-profit healthcare, they will be joining their American counterparts in paying more for coverage" warns Steel. "What working people lose from the public system, they will be demanding at the bargaining table."
The year 2002 was characterized by an increasing erosion of democratic rights. Effective protest and meaningful participation in government became more difficult than ever.
The G8 Summit held in Kananaskis was the largest, most expensive peace time security operation in Canadian history. All three levels of government actively interfered with the rights of citizens to assemble and protest, and Calgarians were subjected to months of fear-mongering.
Despite broad support for ratification, Albertans were subjected to a multi-million dollar anti-Kyoto propaganda campaign while the Klein government chastised the Federal government for "consulting but not listening." At the same time, the Alberta government has hypocritically pushed ahead with privatization and for-profit healthcare despite strong opposition by Albertans.
"What we are seeing is an increasing disconnect between the wants of ordinary Albertans and the policy coming from government. At the same time government is clamping down on the right to protest" said Steel. "That's why labour, students, activists and community groups will continue to work together in the coming year."
For more information, contact:
Les Steel, AFL President at (780) 499-4135 (cell) or (780) 475-4668 (hm)