Albertans deserve more protection in the workplace

EDMONTON - The Alberta government is not doing nearly enough to protect workers - especially young workers, women and immigrants - from abuse and unfair treatment in the workplace, says the Alberta Federation of Labour.

"Over the past few years, the number of employment standards complaints filed with the government has jumped by 50 percent - from 4,951 in 1993 to 7,405 in 1998," says AFL Secretary Treasurer Les Steel. "These numbers tell a disturbing story. It's clear that Albertans are not getting the kind of protection they deserve in the workplace."

Steels comments came in response to a proposal made earlier today by the New Democrat Opposition regarding the establishment of an independent office to advocate on behalf of workers who have been unfairly treated by their employers.

In a news conference, ND labour critic Raj Pannu said a Workers' Advocate is needed to assist in resolving individual complaints and, more importantly, to pressure the government into putting a higher priority on investigating complaints and enforcing its own employment standards rules.

"The sad truth is that the current government often turns a blind eye on employers who mistreat their workers," says Steel. "Alberta's Employment Standards rules are not that bad - the problem is they are not aggressively enforced."

Steel says the ND proposal would be an important step in the right direction - but he says it would only be part of the solution. If the government really wants to "clean up its act" on employment standards, he says it would need to take a number of other steps.

For example, Steel says more inspectors should be hired to investigate complaints. This is especially important considering that the Labour department's workforce was nearly cut in half as a result of the Klein budget cuts. Steel also says the government should move away from it's current "complaint driven" system for investigation. Too often, problem employers go undetected and unpunished because employees are too afraid to complain. What's needed, says Steel, is a system in which government investigators can launch their own independent investigations and spot checks.

Finally, Steel says the government has to get serious about levying substantial fines against employers who consistently ignore the rights of their workers. He says that a "big stick" is the only thing that problem employers understand.

"In the end, what's really needed is for this government to make a strong commitment to protecting the rights of working people," says Steel. "Establishing a Workers' Advocate office would be an important step in the right direction."

For further information contact:

Les Steel, AFL Secretary Treasurer     @     483-3021 (wk) / 499-4135 (cell)

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