While Albertans enjoy this Labour Day weekend, recent news reports reveal there is still much to be done to protect vulnerable workers in the province.
"The Alberta government has once again missed an opportunity to save lives and prevent injuries to workers with its watered-down website on employer safety records," says Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, which represents 140,000 workers.
After nearly a decade of inaction, earlier this year Employment Minister Thomas Lukaszuk vowed to create a website to post the full safety records of employers, including violations of the Occupational Health and Safety Code. What the minister announced last week fell a long way short of his pledge by allowing code violations to remain clouded in secrecy.
Farm workers are likely to remain at risk in the workplace with reports that the government is set to ignore a provincial judge's recommendations to include them in health, safety and employment standards legislation. After being asked by the Premier to investigate the workplace death of Kevan Chandler, Justice Peter Barley recommended that farm workers must be included in Alberta's Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) to prevent future workplace injuries and deaths.
The government appears to be favouring a safety-education campaign rather than providing the same protection in law offered to workers in other industries. Farm workers also have no access to the Workers' Compensation Board and no right to join a union.
"Alberta remains the only province where farm workers are excluded from occupational health and safety laws, as well as legislation governing hours of work and overtime, statutory holidays, vacation pay, the right to refuse unsafe work, being informed of work-related dangers and compensation if they are injured on the job," says McGowan. "In the nine years the Alberta government has said it is 'consulting' on how to improve safety for agricultural workers, 160 people have died on farm worksites."
Meanwhile, a flawed Temporary Foreign Worker program that doesn't work for foreign workers vulnerable to exploitation, for Alberta workers or employers continues to operate. "This program is so dysfunctional it probably has to be scrapped and replaced with something that works for employers and immigrants, instead of creating a disposable workforce," says McGowan.
McGowan is available for annual Labour Day comments this weekend. He will be attending the Calgary and District Labour Council's Labour Day barbeque for the unemployed and underemployed on Monday, Sept. 6.
Nancy Furlong, AFL Secretary Treasurer, is also available for comments and will be at the Edmonton and District Labour Council barbeque for the unemployed and underemployed on Monday, Sept. 6.
Gil McGowan, President, Alberta Federation of Labour @ 780-218-9888 (cell)
Nancy Furlong, Secretary Treasurer, Alberta Federation of Labour @ 780-720-8945 (cell)