Child labour on government agenda

Tories turning their backs on 120 years of social progress

Edmonton – Likely Progressive Conservatives (PC) leadership candidate Thomas Lukaszuk is positioning himself as the proponent of businesses putting 12-year-olds to work.

Expanding the scope of duties 12-year-olds can take on is the first item on the agenda in the discussion guide for the current review of the Alberta Employment Standards Code which is being led by Jobs, Skills, Training and Labour Minister Thomas Lukaszuk.

“We know the Tories are always looking backwards, but feeling nostalgia for 1890s-style child labour is extreme even by their standards,” AFL president Gil McGowan said. “Last time the government expanded child labour in Alberta, the public cried foul. This just shows that they aren’t listening to Albertans.”

The discussion guide, which was published under Lukaszuk’s supervision, suggests that among the tasks that 12-year-olds could take on include janitorial work. Many janitors and custodians are required to handle toxic cleaning products as part of their duties.

“In the mid-1980s, Employment Standards did not allow 12- 14-year-old children to work in mainstream workplaces. But in 2005, the PC’s changed opened the door to child labour in Alberta,” McGowan said. “There were rules in place about how many hours children are allowed to work – but in the majority of cases, those rules aren’t being followed. Now Thomas Lukaszuk wants to weaken those rules even further.”

In 2009, a survey found 26,000 adolescent workers aged 12-14 were employed. More than 21 per cent of these 12- to 14-year-olds worked in prohibited occupations (janitorial services, sports teams, working on a golf course). Of those employed, 49.7 per cent of adolescents and 59.0 per cent of young persons reported at least one work-related injury in the previous year. This study also identifies widespread non-reporting of workplace injuries and seemingly ineffective hazard identification and safety training.

“Each time the issue of expanding child labour comes up in Alberta, there’s one guy who has put it on the agenda,” McGowan said.



Olav Rokne, Communications Director, Alberta Federation of Labour at 780.289.6528 (cell)
or via e-mail
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2002 May Submission Financial Management Commission

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2000 Submission Prov Standing Policy Committee on Learning: What's Wrong with Alberta's Labour Law?

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2014 Executive Summary AFL Submision on Employment Standards Review

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2014 AFL Submission to Employment Standards Review

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AFL Sounds Alarm on Expansion of Child Labour

Jobs Minister floats suggestion to increase scope of jobs that 12-year-olds can be hired into

Edmonton – Alberta's largest worker organization is asking the province to take the expansion of child labour off the table.

Today is the deadline for submissions to the review of the Employment Standards Code launched in March by Jobs Minister Thomas Lukaszuk. The first question that the government asks in its discussion guide for the review has to do with expanding the variety of jobs that 12-14 year olds are permitted to do.

In their written submission to the review, the Alberta Federation of Labour expressed strong opposition to any such expansion.

"Albertans don't want 12-year-olds working in restaurant kitchens. They don't want 13-year-olds working as janitors and handling hazardous cleaning materials," Alberta Federation of Labour president McGowan said. "The fact that this is the first item on Mr. Lukaszuk's Employment Standards agenda shows that he did not hear Albertans the last time his PC government expanded child labour. Albertans rejected it then, and they reject it now."

McGowan added that this "is a very odd way for Lukaszuk to launch a bid for the PC leadership."

"Instead of distancing himself from the bad policy that has characterized the government over the past few years, the Minister seems to be determined to make even more bad policy before he resigns to pursue his leadership aspirations. I guess we'll have to start referring to him as the 'child labour' candidate."

The AFL recommendations on Employment Standards are contained in a detailed analysis of provincial work standards. The Executive Summary is here and the full report is here. The recommendations fall in eight categories:

1) End special permits issued by the Director of Employment Standards. There should be one set of rules for every employer, not exceptions for friends and insiders.

2) End the discrimination against workers with disabilities, farm workers, and domestic workers, and include them in basic Employment Standards protections.

3) Get tough on employers who abuse Temporary Foreign Workers, and make sure employers aren't using the TFW Program to drive down wages and working conditions and displace Albertans from jobs

4) Enforce the rules and get tough on employers that try to cheat the system. Recommendations here are tougher fines, more prosecutions, and on-the-spot administrative penalties (ticketing) for employers who break the rules.

5) Fairness for people who work in the restaurant, retail, and hospitality industries by ending illegal deductions, having a clear law on tips, and ending the two-tier minimum wage.

6) Ending the confusion around stat pay and overtime – clean up the language in the legislation and make our laws consistent with the rest of the country.

7) End – don't expand – child labour in Alberta.

8) Recognize we are all juggling work and family by bringing our parental and maternity leave standards up to the standards in the rest of Canada and expanding the number of leaves employees can take without losing job protection.



Olav Rokne, Communications Director, Alberta Federation of Labour at 780.289.6528 (cell)
or via e-mail

Executive Summary:

AFL Submission:

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TFW program fines are a smokescreen

Harper Government doesn’t use existing measures to combat abuse

Edmonton – The legislation to impose large fines on employers who abuse the Temporary Foreign Worker program is a smokescreen to distract voters who are uneasy with the program.

The as-yet undefined ‘large fines’ were announced on Friday, but the Alberta Federation of Labour notes that there are existing punishments for abuse of the Temporary Foreign Worker program – punishments that are never meted out.

“This is just like the ‘Employer Blacklist’ that Jason Kenney trumpeted about. How many employers have been put on that blacklist? None.” Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan said. “Are any of the 200 employers who stole from the TFWs they hired on the blacklist? Nope. Is Pacer-Promec Joint Venture on the list for firing Canadians to make room for TFWs? Nope. Should Canadians have any confidence that these ‘large fines’ will ever be imposed on companies that break the law? Definitely not.”

The new measures are expected to be in budget legislation tabled late on Friday afternoon, and will be implemented sometime in 2015. There isn’t sufficient staff, however, to monitor or police the program.

“The only way that abuse of the Temporary Foreign Worker program ever comes to light is through individual workers coming forward and going to the media, or through the research of journalists, activists and non-governmental organizations,” McGowan said. “And it seems the only punishment for abusing the system is doled out by news organizations acting in the best interest of Canadians.”

In the wake of a series of scandals that have seen Canadians losing their jobs to exploited and underpaid workers from overseas, the Federal government has made it more difficult for journalists and researchers to access information on the Temporary Foreign Worker program. If the Harper Government was serious about curbing abuses of the program, they would start by publishing a ‘Sunshine List,’ letting Canadians know which employers are using the program.

“Openness and transparency are what’s needed, but that’s not what Canadians are getting,” McGowan said. “They’re promising big stiff penalties that they assure us will be doled out to all the bad guys abusing the program. But at the same time, they’re putting the program behind a curtain of obfuscation. This announcement of stiff penalties is just part of the smokescreen.”



Gil McGowan, President, Alberta Federation of Labour at 780-218-9888 (cell)

Olav Rokne, Communications Director, Alberta Federation of Labour at 780.289.6528 (cell)
or via e-mail

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PBO debunks worker shortage myth

Exposes bogus rationale for TFW program

Edmonton – There is no significant shortage of workers or skills in Canada, according to a new report from the Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO).

In a report released on Tuesday, March 25, the independent officer of parliament showed that employment rates and job vacancy rates were still lower than they had been before the recession of 2008-09. “There is little evidence to suggest a national labour shortage exists in Canada,” the report concludes.

“Lies and exaggerations about the existence of a labour shortage have been used to justify the massive expansion of the Temporary Foreign Worker program (TFWP),” Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan said. “Public policy should be based on facts. If you ignore the facts, you get bad policy that hurts the public interest. That’s what we have with the Harper Government’s Temporary Foreign Worker program.”

The PBO’s report is just the latest report to debunk the notion of a shortage of workers or skills in Canada. Over the past year, former Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney, the Institute for Research on Public Policy, the University of Calgary School of Public Policy, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, the University of Alberta Economics Department and Fraser Institute Fellow Herb Emery have all released reports that debunk the labour shortage myth.

“Every year, Canadian employers bring in hundreds of thousands of Temporary Foreign Workers to fill a nonexistent labour shortage,” McGowan said. “And when these marginalized workers get here, they’re paid less than they should be, their rights are ignored, they have little hope of attaining citizenship – and Canadians are put out of work.” 

The current Public Budget Officer, Jean-Denis Fréchette, was appointed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper in September 2013 to replace Kevin Paige. The mandate of the PBO is to provide independent analysis to Parliament on the state of the nation’s finances, the government’s estimates and trends in the Canadian economy.

“This is the PM’s own guy offering a report that repudiates the justification for this government’s policies,” McGowan said. “Academics, right-wing analysts, progressive economists, government bureaucrats, statisticians – the entire fact-based community agrees that the justification for the Temporary Foreign Worker program is bunk. Even the PM himself has expressed concerns about the program. So why does it still exist?”



Olav Rokne, Communications Director, Alberta Federation of Labour at 780.289.6528 (cell)
or via e-mail

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Frontline public employees rally today against imposed cuts to modest pensions

Frontline public employees are rallying today at multiple locations throughout Alberta to defend their modest pensions against imposed cuts to their retirement savings unilaterally introduced by the Redford Government.

“Nobody voted on these cuts,” Alberta Federation of Labour President Gil McGowan said on behalf of the Labour Coalition on Pensions. “By breaking the promise it made to frontline public employees, the Redford Government is sending the message that no one can trust the agreements it makes.”

Before imposing big changes, McGowan said, the Redford government should engage in negotiations with frontline public employees so solutions everyone can live with can be agreed upon.

The average public-sector pension in Alberta is only about $14,000 per year, and it’s troubling that the government is increasing pensions for senior managers and other insiders at the same time as it cuts the pensions of frontline workers.

McGowan said imposed pension cuts will make it more difficult for hospitals, schools, universities and other public-sector employers to find and keep skilled and dedicated frontline employees – something sure to have an impact on the quality of public services in Alberta.

“The Redford Government’s most recent public announcements make it sound like they’re backing down, but they’re continuing to break their promise to these frontline workers by imposing pension cuts rather than negotiating them,” McGowan said.

As a result, affected workers are rallying over lunchtime throughout the province today at multiple worksites in Edmonton, St. Albert, Calgary, Hinton, Red Deer, Fort McMurray, Medicine Hat, Lethbridge, Grande Prairie, Peace River and Camrose.

Informal smaller-scale activities are expected near many other public-sector worksites throughout the province.

Senior elected officers of the major Alberta public-sector unions will be available at all sites for interviews with media.

Marle Roberts, President of Canadian Union of Public Employees Alberta Division, will attend the rally at the Misericordia Hospital in Edmonton

Elisabeth Ballermann, President of the Health Sciences Association of Alberta, will attend the rally at the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Edmonton

Heather Smith, President of the United Nurses of Alberta, will attend the rally at Red Deer Regional Hospital

Guy Smith, President of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, will attend a rally at Foothills Medical Centre in Calgary

Gil McGowan, President of the Alberta Federation of Labour will attend a rally at University Hospital in Edmonton



Olav Rokne, Communications Director, Alberta Federation of Labour at 780.289.6528 (cell) or via e-mail

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Stand Up for Your Pension Rallies Speech by Gil McGowan, AFL President March 20th – Day of Action

Speech by Gil McGowan, AFL President
March 20th – Day of Action

There are hundreds of people here today – but you’re not alone.

As we speak, thousands of public-sector workers are filling the streets outside hospitals, schools and municipal buildings across the province.

Calgary, Red Deer, Lethbridge, Fort McMurray, Medicine Hat, Peace River, Camrose, Hinton … the list goes on.

Public-sector workers are engaging in these protests because they’re sick and tired.

They’re sick and tired of unjustified attacks on the pensions they’ve paid for.

They’re sick and tired of a government that seems determined to bully, not negotiate.

They’re sick and tired of enduring cuts and wage freezes even as our economy booms.

And they’re sick and tired of a Premier who claimed to be our friend, but stabbed us in the back.

Let’s spend a moment talking about our departed Premier.

Some of us had been framing these rallies as Redford retirement rallies because we felt she should be thinking about her own retirement plans instead of attacking the retirement plans of public-sector workers.

Obviously, she beat us to the punch. However, I want to make one thing very clear: Premier Redford may be gone, but the problem still remains.

The provincial government still has a plan to gut your pensions.

And this is still the same government that has been trampling on the collective bargaining rights of public-sector workers and that has threatened to punish and muzzle workers with laws that restrict your constitutional right to free speech.

Perhaps most importantly, Premier Redford may be gone, but, as a result of her bullying, my-way-or-the-highway approach to government, she’s left a trail of broken political relationships and alienated Albertans.

The PC’s have alienated their own supporters; they’ve alienated voters and, of course, they’ve alienated public-sector workers.

If the Progressive Conservatives (PC’s) ever hope to re-build their brand and continue their political dynasty, they’re going to have to rebuild those relationships.

My hope is that the new premier will do what Alison Redford refused to do…and that is to treat public-sector workers with respect … and to negotiate rather than dictate.

That’s why, this morning, I wrote a letter to interim Premier Dave Hancock. I asked him to turn a new page. I asked him to join us in building a new relationship. I asked him to negotiate on wages, pensions and funding for services, instead of making unilateral decisions.

Finally, I reminded him that he and his government don’t have a mandate to gut pensions. Alison Redford never had that mandate and Dave Hancock certainly doesn’t.

That’s where all of you come in. We need to keep the pressure up.

All of us need to get on the phone. We need to write letters, send letters and make visits to MLA offices.

We need to make sure our MLAs understand that Redford’s retirement is not really the issue. The issue is retirement security. The issue is fairness. The issue is respect.

They have to understand that public-sector workers in this province simply won’t stand for unjustified attacks on the pensions they’ve paid for or wages they’ve earned no matter who’s in the Premier’s chair.

So let’s keep up the pressure. We’ve got their attention – now let’s make it clear to all the parties and all the politicians that in a province as wealthy as Alberta, there is simply no justification for us to engage in a race to the bottom!

Gil McGowan
Alberta Federation of Labour

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