Universal child care an urgent priority


Mothers’ Day marks beginning of week of action for child care

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Kids Camp 2015


Theme: “Environment”

The AFL Kids’ Camp is a 5-day residential program that combines summer activities with educational activities.
The camp is open to children of trade unionists belonging to unions affiliated to the Alberta Federation of Labour. Learning is combined with recreational activities such as canoeing, wall climbing, hiking, rappelling, group challenges, crafts and swimming.

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Vast majority of Albertans support workplace protections for agricultural workers

Despite years of promises, agricultural workers still excluded from provincial health and safety legislation

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Fort McMurray Airport’s TFW Plan Doesn’t Fly with Voters

Poll released in advance of Airport Board meeting shows Wood Buffalo residents want outsourcing plan grounded

Fort McMurray – More than 89 per cent of Wood Buffalo region residents oppose the Fort McMurray airport’s plans to outsource cleaning and security services to a firm that hires Temporary Foreign Workers.

The poll comes in advance of a meeting of the Fort McMurray Airport Authority Board on Tuesday, where they will vote on the plan. If the plan goes ahead, dozens of local Canadian workers would be laid off – many of whom have worked for the airport for years.

“If they go ahead with this, they’ll be turning good jobs into bad jobs,” Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan said. “It’s no wonder people in the community oppose this plan. It’ll be a blow to the economy – and to the community – if it goes ahead. And it comes at a time when the economy is already reeling from low oil prices.” 

The poll showed that Fort McMurray residents don’t just overwhelmingly oppose the plan, they are willing to take concrete action to show their displeasure about the destruction of Canadian jobs. More than 62 per cent said that if the plan went though, they would sign a pledge to take one fewer flight out of that airport every year. A further 74 per cent said there would be electoral consequences for members of council who had a hand in the plan going through.

“People in Fort McMurray have seen these TFWP shell games before, where a company gets rid of good jobs and brings in a contractor to get the same work done with exploitable and underpaid temporary foreign workers,” McGowan said. “What’s different this time is that it’s being done by an organization that is supposedly answerable to the public.”

The plan was put forward by Fort McMurray Airport Authority CEO Scott Clements. The poll showed that more than 54 per cent of residents would like to see him fired for trying to destroy local jobs. 

“The Temporary Foreign Worker program has had a direct impact on just about everyone in this community,” McGowan said. “Whether it’s your friend, your neighbour, if you live in Fort McMurray, you probably know people who have been put out of work, had their wages slashed, or had problems completing an apprenticeship because of the TFW program.”

Environics - Fort McMurray Airport Survey Results - PDF 



Olav Rokne, Communications Director, Alberta Federation of Labour at 780.218.4351 (cell)          
or via e-mail


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Norway’s Top Oil Man Urges Canadians To Think Like Owners

Former Director of Norwegian Petroleum Directorate Rolf Wiborg Addresses AFL Convention

CALGARY – The former head of the Norwegian government’s oil directorate is speaking in Calgary on Friday, April 17.

Rolf Wiborg, who has four decades experience in Norway’s oil industry – both for private companies and as a Norwegian regulator – will address the Alberta Federation of Labour’s biennial convention in the Calgary Convention Centre at 10:35 a.m. Wiborg will speak about the need for a publicly-owned energy corporation to champion value-added development in the oil sands.

"You have to give up this idea that someone else has the right to tell you what to do with your resources or how your society should run," Wiborg said, noting that ensuring Canadians collect a fair share from the oil resources they own will take political will. "It can be done, but do the Canadian people have the power and the will? Do they have the collectiveness and guts to do it?"

Who:         Rolf Wiborg, former Director of the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate

Where:    Calgary Convention Centre (120 – 9th Ave. S.E. Calgary)

                   South Building - McLeod Hall

When:      10:35 a.m., Friday, April 17, 2015




Olav Rokne, Communications Director, Alberta Federation of Labour at 780.218.4351 (cell)
or via e-mail

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Excitement is running high as union leaders and activists gather in Calgary before an election that could transform Alberta

Delegates to AFL convention wonder: will the power of working people finally trump the power of the wealthy and well-connected?

CALGARY – Leaders from most of Alberta’s major unions will gather in Calgary this week, in the midst of a provincial election campaign in which their main issues have suddenly become pivotal and their preferred candidates are set to make major gains.

We’ve been saying for nearly a decade that Alberta has a tax and royalty system that overwhelmingly favours big corporations and the wealthy,” Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan said on the eve of the AFL’s biennial convention. “Suddenly our issues and proposals for reform are being talked about by thousands and thousands of voters and many of the party leaders. To say that we’re excited and hopeful would be an understatement.

The AFL’s 2015 convention – titled “Dream No Little Dreams” – starts Thursday morning, April 16, and wraps on Sunday, April 19. The event is being held at the Calgary Convention Centre (South Building- McLeod Hall).

Highlights of the Convention include:

  • AFL president Gil McGowan will address the convention about the AFL’s cheeky and much-discussed Better Way Alberta campaign, which many observers agree has “primed the pump” for the current debate that’s raging on corporate taxes.
    Thursday, April 16 – 10:40 a.m.
  • Dr. Alex Himelfarb, the former Clerk of the Privy Council (the top bureaucrat for the federal government), whose new book, “Tax is NOT a four-letter word”, makes the case for higher taxes on corporations and the wealthy to pay for quality public services.
    Thursday, April 16 – 2:30 p.m.
  • Childcare Resource and Research unit director Martha Friendly will make the case that Canada needs a national child care program.
    Friday, April 17 – 9:30 a.m.
  • Former director of the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate Rolf Wiborg will present a case for a publicly-owned energy corporation to champion value-added development in the oil sands. Wiborg, a petroleum engineer with more than 40 years working in Norway’s oil industry, is a leading expert in managing petroleum wealth.
    On Friday, April 17 – 10:35 a.m.
  • Former Canadian ambassador to the UN Stephen Lewis will speak about the upcoming Federal election, and make the case for why Canadians need to rise up against Stephen Harper and take their country back.
    On Saturday, April 18 – 2:10 p.m.

Delegates will also debate plans for helping progressive candidates “get over the top” in the current provincial election campaign.

This is a crucial moment for working people. We think ordinary citizens in this province have finally reached the point where they’re ready to say: "enough is enough" McGowan said. This is shaping up to be the election we’ve all been waiting for: the election in which the power of working people finally trumps the power of the wealthy and the well-connected. At our convention, we’re going to make sure we do everything we can to take advantage of this historic opportunity.


Olav Rokne, Communications Director, Alberta Federation of Labour at 780.218.4351 (cell)
or via e-mail


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Temporary Foreign Worker Program Primer

TFWP rally



Launched in the early 1970s, and originally intended for limited high-skilled, high-paying jobs, the Temporary Foreign Worker Program has grown into an economy destroying nightmare that is putting Canadians out of work and enabling the exploitation of vulnerable migrant workers.

Since 2006, the number of Temporary Foreign Workers in Canada has more than tripled. And Alberta is ground zero for the abuse of the program – and of Temporary Foreign workers.

Because Temporary Foreign Workers are dependent on the whims of their employers for their right to stay in Canada, they are at a disadvantage in terms of negotiating for fair wages, safe workplaces and respectful treatment. They face higher rates of wage theft, higher rates of workplace abuse, and often work for lower wages. 

Because some unscrupulous employers would rather hire workers they can push around and pay less, they choose not to hire Canadians. This means that Canadian workers are losing their jobs because of the Temporary Foreign Worker program. Even Canadian workers who keep their jobs face diminished wages because they face the threat of being replaced.

The Alberta Federation of Labour has been a leading critic of the program, providing analysis, research and advocacy to help curb the negative impact of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program.


What should be done to the TFWP?                                    

The AFL has repeatedly called for the phasing out of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, especially in low-wage sectors, because it is driving down wages and blocking the first rungs on the job ladder which traditionally have been filled by young workers, seniors and new immigrants.


What should happen to Temporary Foreign Workers who are already in Canada?

If someone has come to Canada to work, they should have the right to build a life here. The Alberta Federation of Labour believes that no worker should be beholden to their employer for the right to stay in the country. Workers who are in Canada already should be granted permanent resident status. Then the program should be ended for good.


Don’t we need the Temporary Foreign Worker Program to deal with a labour shortage?


The Alberta Federation of Labour has tracked the use of the TFW program, and has shown conclusively that it is not being used to respond to the availability of workers, but instead being used to drive down wages. During the last recession, employers brought in workers in low-skill, low-wage jobs, even in areas with high unemployment rates.

In a healthy labour market, wages go up when there is a shortage. In the occupations where employers have made the most aggressive use of the TFW program, wages have stagnated and fallen. There is no labour shortage, what there is, is a shortage of employers who are willing to play fair and respond to market pressures.


Aren’t there rules in place to prevent abuse of the TFW program?

There are, but the rules aren’t stringent enough, the rules aren’t being enforced, and bad employers aren’t facing the consequences of their actions.

In 2013, the federal government promised proactive monitoring of Temporary Foreign Worker employers.  That has not happened. In 2012, the government launched a black-list of employers who aren’t supposed to be allowed to access the TFW program. As of 2015, there’s only one name on it.

The government keeps promising to curb the abuses of the TFW program, but employers keep finding new ways to exploit migrant workers and to put Canadians out of work.

Clearly, the TFW program needs to be scrapped altogether. 

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Election law muzzles advocacy campaign website that calls for corporate tax increases

Better Way Alberta campaign site will be shuttered to comply with law that 'undermines free speech'

Edmonton – The Alberta Federation of Labour will be forced to shut down its Better Way Alberta website once the writ is dropped to start the provincial election campaign, which is widely expected to happen tomorrow.

The decision is the result of an opinion provided to the Federation by Alberta's Chief Electoral Officer, Glen Resler, over the weekend.

"Basically, they've ruled that the videos that act as the cornerstone of the BWA website need to be deemed as third-party advertisements," AFL president Gil McGowan said.

"But, it's absurd to put websites in the same category as paid TV, radio or social media advertisements. They're passive; they're only viewed by people who want to view them. It's like telling people what they can and cannot read," Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan said. "Imagine if the government went into a library and started pulling books off the shelf that they said shouldn't be read during an election campaign. People would be outraged. But that's exactly what they're doing in this case."

The Election Finances and Contributions Disclosure Act (EFCDA), which regulates third-party spending during elections, imposes heavy fines on groups that disobey the act's overly complicated and onerous rules.

The Alberta Federation of Labour, which is not allowed to register as a third-party advertiser under the rules, is complying with the legislation. The Federation will, however, consider legal recourses such as launching a Charter challenge against the Elections Act on the grounds that it violates the right to free speech guaranteed in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

"We are not necessarily opposed to restrictions on third-party advertising during elections. The government's goal when they introduced the current Elections Finance Act was to stop organizations with deep pockets from flooding the airwaves during campaigns – and we support that goal," McGowan said. "However, they've gone too far when they start telling advocacy groups that they have to shut down their websites."

The EFCDA says that any piece of text, audio or video that has been paid for by anyone other than a political party and that is designed to persuade the public on issues related to government policy will be deemed political advertisement for the purposes of the Act. That means that many documents produced by organizations like the Chamber of Commerce, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and the Canadian Federation of Independent Business could be seen as campaign advertisements.

"Yet, it's only the Better Way Alberta campaign – which calls for increased taxes on corporate profits instead of cuts to public services – that is being shut down. That's a double standard," McGowan said. "And it leads me to believe that this law isn't really about protecting the public interest and the sanctity of elections; it's about muzzling individuals and groups who disagree with the government."

Launched in early March, the Better Way Alberta website has been visited by almost 50,000 Albertans. The campaign's YouTube videos have been viewed in excess of 370,000 times. The petition, which asks the government to reform the province's revenue system through progressive taxes, corporate taxes and fair royalty rates, has been signed by 6,500 people. The BWA campaign leaflet was mailed to more than 1.2 million Alberta homes.

"Clearly our message has struck a chord with Albertans," McGowan said. "I encourage as many Albertans as possible to visit the website, and share the content before it gets taken down when the election period starts – possibly as early as tomorrow."

The Federation of Labour is sending a letter asking for the Premier to intervene and to provide an assurance that he will not prosecute the AFL or any other advocacy group for content posted on their websites.



Olav Rokne, Communications Director, Alberta Federation of Labour at 780.218.4351 (cell)

or via e-mail orokne@afl.org


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Court of Queen’s Bench throws out large sections of Alberta’s labour law

Government given one year to fix labour legislation that violates constitution

Edmonton –Alberta laws that interfere with the right of public-sector workers to go on strike violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Court of Queen’s Bench has ruled.

In a sweeping judgment handed down on Tuesday, and accepted by the Government of Alberta today, Justice Dennis Thomas ruled the blanket prohibitions against strikes and lockouts in Section 96(1)(b) and 96(1)(c) of the Labour Relations Code, and sections of the Public Service Employees Relations Act (PSERA) violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and are not saved by the Charter’s provision allowing reasonable limits as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.

“Albertans have a right to work together, to look after each other and to stand up for themselves when needed,” Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan said. “Attacking those rights doesn’t lead to labour peace – it leads to long-term problems. I am very pleased that Justice Thomas in his wisdom has reaffirmed those rights.”

This is the latest in a series of court decisions in Canada that have reaffirmed the fact that the right to free association includes the right to bargain collectively, and to engage in collective work action. In his decision, Justice Thomas cited the Supreme Court of Canada’s Jan. 30 decision in Saskatchewan Federation of Labour v. Saskatchewan, which saw the country’s top court strike down a Saskatchewan law that prevented public-sector employees from striking.”



Olav Rokne, Communications Director, Alberta Federation of Labour at 780.218.4351 (cell)
or via e-mail

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2015 Statement from Alberta Federation of Labour President Gil McGowan on the federal government’s April 1 TFW deadline

Statement from Alberta Federation of Labour President Gil McGowan on the federal government’s April 1 TFW deadline

On the eve of the federal government’s April 1 deadline for Temporary Foreign Workers (TFWs), Canadians should feel sympathy for the thousands of people facing the prospect of being sent home … and they should feel anger and disgust towards the federal government for the ham-handed way they’ve handled this file.

It’s appropriate to sympathize with individual Temporary Foreign workers, because – quite simply – they’ve done nothing wrong.

They came to Canada in good faith. They worked hard. They dreamed about better lives for themselves and their families. They don’t deserve the lies, broken promises and outright exploitation that they’ve suffered at the hands of the Harper government and many unscrupulous employers and fly-by-night labour brokers.

However, while it is appropriate for us to feel sympathy for these workers, we cannot lose sight of what needs to be done. And what the federal government needs to do is shut down the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFWP) – or, at the very least, scale it back to what it was before they made the decision to expand it a decade ago.

We take this position because Canada doesn’t need an exploitative guest worker program. What we need is real immigration. We also need better training – both in our schools and from employers – so that Canadians can benefit from the opportunities offered in our national and regional labour markets.

The Harper government’s dramatically expanded Temporary Foreign Worker Program was never a good fit for our country. It was never a good fit because Canada is a country built by immigration – and the Temporary Foreign Worker Program is not immigration; it’s exploitation.

The Temporary Foreign Worker program flies in the face of Canadian values: values like fairness, tolerance and inclusion. It also represents a dramatic break from our traditional approach to bringing people into our country from abroad.

For generations, we embraced an immigration model that welcomed newcomers as citizens. It’s a model that served us well. But now, as a result of the Harper government’s approach – an approach which, I might add, was never brought to Parliament for approval – we’re now bringing more people into the country each year as precarious guest workers than as permanent residents and citizens.

The reality for the vast majority of the 350,000 temporary foreign workers in Canada – and the 85,000 TFWs here in Alberta – is that, despite the promises made by politicians and many employment brokers, they will never become citizens. Instead, they’re status is more akin to the indentured servants or the so-called “coolies” of the 19th century.

The defining characteristic of TFWs in Canada today is their lack of full mobility rights. For most of them, they can only work for the employer that brought them. Even if they’re being cheated, mistreated or underpaid, in most cases they can’t do what Canadian workers can do – they can’t quit and apply for a job across the street.

This is exactly what many employers love about the Temporary Foreign Worker program. It has allowed them to ignore market signals about wages and impose working conditions that would never be tolerated by Canadians.

This is why so many employers love the program, but it is also why we at the Alberta Federation of Labour have so strongly opposed it.

We simply cannot tolerate the continued existence of a federal program that has facilitated the creation of a two-tiered labour market in which unscrupulous employers are allowed to use a vulnerable underclass of precarious workers to drive down wages, displace Canadians and avoid their responsibilities related to training.

That’s our bottom line: Canada needs to say “no” to a two-tiered labour market based on the exploitation of vulnerable guest workers.

In other parts of the world, guest worker programs have turned whole economic sectors into low-wage ghettos. It starts with jobs that are already low-status and low-pay, like child care and farm labour. But, if guest worker programs are allowed to flourish, the ghettoization creeps up the wage scale to areas like food service, retail sales, construction and even sectors like IT and health care.

When this happens, wages and job opportunities are suppressed and tensions between citizens and newcomers become enflamed.

This has already been happening here in Alberta. A wide range of experts – from the Parliamentary Budget Officer to the former governor of the Bank of Canada to former Employment Minister Jason Kenney himself – now agree that the Temporary Foreign Worker Program was being used to suppress wages. Instead of being used as a last resort, the program was a first choice for many employers – especially in the low wage service sector.

This distorted the labour market and was clearly uncalled for in Alberta when oil was trading above $100 a barrel. It’s completely unacceptable now that the price of oil has collapsed and unemployment is on the rise.

However – and this is a big “however” – while we think the TFW program should be scrapped in its current form, we feel strongly that something needs to be done to help the thousands and thousands of TFWs who are already in the country. They are just as much victims of bad public policy as the Canadians who have been displaced by the program whose wages have been suppressed.

With this in mind, this morning I have made a formal proposal to the federal ministers of Employment and Immigration. We’re urging them to close off most TFW streams going forward and impose new limits and restriction on the so-called International Mobility Program which is allowing a growing number of foreign workers into the country without even the minimal oversight afforded to the mainline TFW program.

But we’re also asking them to let the TFWs who are already in Canada stay. Most importantly, we believe these workers should be granted permanent residency and eventually citizenship.

As permanent residents or citizens, these workers will have full mobility rights within the Canadian labour market, meaning it will be much more difficult for employers to use them as pawns to drive down wages and conditions on individual worksites or across sectors of the economy.

Closing off most streams of the TFW program and granting permanent residency to the TFWs already in Canada will accomplish three important things:

  1. It will put all participants in the Canadian labour market on equal footing. It is most certainly NOT in the broad interest of the Canadian public to have a labour market divided into two segments: one with full rights, including the right to mobility, and another with constrained rights, including limits on mobility. Closing off the TFW program and granting permanent residency to the workers already here, will re-establish balance and fairness in the Canadian labour market.
  1. It will go a long way towards correcting what is, essentially, an historic injustice. For generations, Canada has been a beacon for immigrants seeking to create a better life for themselves and their families. But, as I’ve said, the TFW program is not immigration, it is exploitation. By closing off the program and granting permanent residency to TFWs already in the country, we could re-establish our reputation as a nation that welcomes, instead of exploits, newcomers.
  1. It will encourage businesses and governments to focus on the REAL solutions to meeting the needs of the Canadian labour market: training, flexibility on compensation and conditions and REAL immigration. Instead of relying on cheap, vulnerable and exploitable workers, governments and businesses will have to do what they should have been doing all along, which is to nurture, develop and support our domestic labour force – which is a labour force that has always included new immigrants with full citizenship rights.

Will Pierre Poilievre and Chris Alexander do the right thing when their predecessors would not? Will they hear our plea that Canada should be a country of citizens, not serfs? Honestly, I don’t know. And based on the track record of this government, I’m not hopeful. But we need to ask and we need to lobby. If the Harper Conservatives continue to mishandle this file, then the only choice for Canadians will be to view the next federal election as an opportunity to put an end to this sorry chapter in Canadian history at the ballot box.

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