Government Plans Based on Two Dangerous Myths

EDMONTON - The Alberta government's plan for the coming year - as outlined in today's Throne Speech - is based on two dangerous myths, says the President of the Alberta Federation of Labour.

The first myth is that privatization in health care will lower costs and reduce waiting lists.  The second myth is that flat taxes will enhance tax fairness and prompt economic growth.

"The government has decided to make private health care and flat taxes the dual centerpieces of their agenda for the year 2000," says AFL President Audrey Cormack, "but both of these policies are deeply flawed.  Bother policies will weaken the social fabric of our province."

Cormack says the government's plan to spend tax dollars on private, for profit hospitals represents a serious threat to the future of medicare.

"The government says its privatization plan will protect medicare," says Cormack "but the truth is privatization will undermine the very foundations of our public health system. Wherever privatization in health care has been tried, it has failed.  All we have to do is look at the experience in places like Britain, Australia and the United States.  Wherever private health care has been allowed to spread costs have gone up and waiting lists have grown longer.  Given this experience, why on earth would we want to go down this road?"

Cormack says the government's plan for a provincial flat tax is also ill conceived.

"Albertans shouldn't be fooled into thinking that a flat tax will actually make the provincial tax system fairer," says Cormack "this plan will provide a big break for the wealthiest Albertans but middle income earners are going to carry a disproportionate share of the burden. The flat tax will also rob the government of hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue - revenue needed to pay for health care, education and other important programs and services."

If the government really wants to defend medicare and promote tax fairness, Cormack says they should shelve their plans for private health care and flat taxes."The answer to our problem in health care is adequate funding for our existing public system. And the answer to our concerns about fair taxation is a tax system that is more progressive, not less," says Cormack.

"By introducing a flat tax the Alberta government is abandoning one of the central principles of fair taxation.  And by promoting privatization in health care they will be weakening Canada's most cherished social program.  These are not  bold plans for the future - they are dangerous ideas that will take us backwards not move us forward."

For further information contact:

Audrey Cormack, President: (780) 499-6530 (cell)

Add your reaction Share

AFL president available for comment after Throne Speech

EDMONTON - Audrey Cormack, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, will be available to answer questions from the media immediately following tomorrow's Throne Speech.

The Throne Speech is scheduled to begin at 3 p.m. Thursday, February 17 at the Legislature. Cormack will be available to talk to reporters in the Legislature rotunda as soon as the speech is finished.


For more information call:

Audrey Cormack, President: (780) 499-6530 (cell)

Add your reaction Share

Business Tax Committee is a "Sham Consultation"

The Alberta Federation of Labour is criticizing the announcement today of a new Committee struck to review Alberta's business tax regime. The new Committee, says AFL President Audrey Cormack, will be a repeat of the sham consultations held two years ago on the flat tax.

"There is no need to look at business tax right now," says Cormack. "Alberta already has the lowest corporate taxes in the country, and the economy is booming right now. What possible reason could there be for reviewing tax rates?"

"This government won't be happy until business pays no tax in this province," says Cormack, "regardless of what damage that will inflict on essential public services."

Cormack predicts that Treasurer Stockwell Day already knows what he is going to do with corporate taxes, and this Committee is just a sideshow to distract Albertans.

"It will be a sham consultation," observes Cormack. "It will be business hearing from business about what should happen to business - and I think we all know what that outcome will be."

Cormack points out that the committee is made up entirely of businesspeople and government MLA's. "Where is the representation from working Albertans? All Albertans have a stake in what happens to business taxes."

Cormack also highlights that current tax levels are clearly no barrier to investment in the province. "How will dropping corporate taxes even lower help create jobs or improve health care and education in our province? In short, it won't."

"This tax cut game is simply to satisfy Stockwell Day's narrow right-wing ideological fantasies which have no grounding in real life economics."

"Once again, it is the Tories helping the rich get richer, while average Albertans lie on gurneys in hospital hallways and run casinos to pay for school textbooks," concludes Cormack.


For more information contact:

Audrey Cormack, AFL President @ 483-3021(wk) 499-6530 (cell) 428-9367 (hm)

Add your reaction Share

Labour regrets the loss of Pam Barrett

EDMONTON - The President of the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) feels that Pam Barrett, who today stepped down as Leader of the Alberta New Democrats and MLA for Edmonton Highlands, will be sorely missed by all Albertans.

According to AFL President Audrey Cormack, Ms. Barrett's most remembered achievement will probably be her stalwart defense of Alberta's Medicare system against the attacks by private health corporations and the Klein government.

"Pam Barrett cared passionately about our public health care system," said Cormack. "The struggle to preserve it consumed most of her tenure as leader."

Ms. Cormack was quick to point out that Pam Barrett has always been considered a friend of working people in Alberta. "Pam was also a strong supporter of workers' rights," said Cormack. "She had a penchant for sticking up for the underdog - and she spoke out loudly and effectively every time an employer was treating workers unfairly."

Barrett's sudden resignation must serve as a wake-up call to the labour movement, according to Cormack. "Labour - and other progressive social forces in Alberta - have counted on Pam Barrett to be a leader on the health care front and many other issues," concluded Cormack. "Now we are all going to have to redouble our efforts to make up for Pam's absence."


For more information contact:

Audrey Cormack, AFL President @  483-3021(wk) 499-6530 (cell)
428-9367 (hm)

Add your reaction Share

Labour Supports National Student Actions

Alberta labour leaders threw their support behind the Canadian Federation of Students protests taking place in Alberta and throughout the rest of the country today.

"The situation facing young Albertans in our colleges and universities today is untenable," said AFL President Audrey Cormack. "Our students have had the costs of the federal and provincial cuts to post-secondary education unloaded onto them in increased tuitition fees."

"The consequences are unbearable levels of student debt - and the grim reality that the children of working people will be excluded from advanced education because of the high costs," said Cormack.

She is endorsing the student demands for an immediate freeze on tuition fees; restoration of federal and provincial funding, and a return to a grant program in place of the current student loan program.

"The education of our youth is a national asset, something that, in the long run, will benefit all Canadians," said Cormack. "It's time we treated it that way."

Edmonton and District Labour Council President Alex Grimaldi agrees. "Edmonton has always benefitted from our advanced education institutions. The students and faculty and staff make our Edmonton a richer and more vital community," said Grimaldi. "The impoverishment of students has an economically and socially depressing effect."

"It's time for the public to speak out, in support of our students' fight for fair treatment," concluded Grimaldi.

Both Audrey Cormack and Alex Grimaldi will be speaking at a students' rally today at noon at SUB Theatre at the University of Alberta Campus.


For more information contact:

Audrey Cormack, AFL President @ 483-3021(wk) 499-6530 (cell) 428-9367 (hm)

Alex Grimaldi, EDLC President @ 474-4747

Add your reaction Share

Premier Continues to Mislead Public on Health Care Privatization Plan, Says AFL

Premier Klein's televised address last night was a continuation of his intentional misleading of the public over his privatization experiment, says Audrey Cormack, President of the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL). It offers nothing to make life better for working people in the province.

"He had nothing to offer working people," notes Cormack. "His attention is saved for corporations and the extremely wealthy." Cormack notes that the government's key economic plank is the flat tax, which will disproportionately benefit the very wealthy.

The only content in the speech, says Cormack, was Klein's continued misinformation about his health privatization plan. "He insists on abusing his access to the airwaves to tell half-truths and cloud his real intentions with Medicare."

"He knows as well as we do that Albertans are saying they don't want taxpayer dollars padding the pockets of for-profit hospitals," states Cormack. "His plan - as he well knows - does exactly that."

"He has promised to put $1 billion into health care over the next three years, but how much of that will go to services, and how much into the profit margins of private clinics?" asks Cormack.

Cormack observes Klein is still not hearing Albertans. "Albertans are saying to the government we don't want his privatization plan. What can be so hard about that?"

Cormack scoffed at the appointment of Don Mazankowski to chair a new Premier's Advisory Council on Health. "Klein has appointed Mulroney's hatchet man to advise on the future of health care."

Cormack points out that Mazankowski started the cutbacks to health care transfer payments in the 1980s as a Minister, including a period as Finance Minister, under the Mulroney and Campbell governments.

"Nothing for working families, tax breaks and privatized health care for the wealthy. Sounds like the same old Tory government to me," concludes Cormack.


For More Information:

Audrey Cormack, President @ 483-3021(wk) 428-9367 (hm) 499-6530 (cell)

Add your reaction Share

Confidential Document Reveals WCB Attempting Power Grab, Says AFL

The Alberta Federation of Labour has obtained a copy of a confidential WCB Board of Directors document outlining a list of 40 amendments to the WCB Act and Regulation the WCB wants made in the spring session of the Legislature. The list includes changes that will give the WCB power to punish workers and will lower the WCB's level of accountability to Albertans.

"I can't believe with all the controversy surrounding the WCB these days, the Board has the gall to propose even less accountability for their actions," says AFL President Audrey Cormack. "The amendments do two things: give the Board more power to punish workers arbitrarily and restrict the Auditor General and government from overseeing the activities of the Board. In short, they want more power and less accountability."

Among some housekeeping amendments, the document lists a number of changes to lower accountability, including:

  • "Removing the ability of the Auditor General to oversee WCB financial affairs
  • "Removing the WCB from the Financial Administration Act and the Government Accountability Act
  • "Permit the WCB to 'construct, equip, maintain and operate hospitals, clinics and residence facilities' without permission from cabinet
  • "Permit the WCB to set its own terms of remuneration for Directors and Board members

Other amendments give the WCB new power to cut off claimants and interfere with the independence of the appeal process:

  • "Allows the 'reduction or suspension of compensation' to a worker who refuses retraining or vocational rehabilitation services
  • "Gives the WCB 'the ability to obtain a judgement against a worker' for defaulted payments
  • "Eliminates the ability of appeal panels to waive the 1-year limitation period when warranted
  • "Introduces a new 1-year time limitation for last chance appeals to the Board of Directors
  • "Allows the WCB to name itself as an 'interested party' at any appeal at the Appeals Commission

"These proposed amendments are a slap in the face to Albertans," observes Cormack. "Albertans are calling for more accountability from the Worker's Compensation system, and this Board goes in the opposite direction."

"They are also interfering with the independence of the WCB appeal system and asking for permission to bully workers even more than before by cutting off their benefits and harassing them for overpayments," Cormack adds.

"They obviously feel they are superior to any other public entity."

Oversight by the Auditor General and application of the Government Accountability Act ensure the WCB is accountable to Albertans for how it raises and spends money, notes Cormack. "The WCB wants to be answerable to no one about how it spends Albertan's money."

Cormack is also troubled by the inclusion of a section permitting WCB to build and operate its own hospitals and clinics. "This feels uneasily like WCB trying to set up its own health system outside the public Medicare system."

Cormack called on the Minister Responsible for WCB, Clint Dunford, to immediately reject the WCB's requests, and instead review what steps should be taken to make the WCB more accountable to Albertans. She has written a letter to the Minister making this request.

"The arrogance of the WCB is paralleled only by their drive to prevent any fairness or justice from entering their hallways," concludes Cormack.

NOTE: Copies of the obtained document listing the amendments are available to media by calling the AFL at (780)483-3021.


For More Information:

Audrey Cormack, President @ 483-3021(wk) 428-9367 (hm) 499-6530 (cell)

Add your reaction Share

Government contradicted by new work absence statistics

New figures acquired by the Alberta Federation of Labour show that in 1998, work absence due to illness, injury and disability were at their highest level in a decade. This contradicts the Alberta government and WCB claim that Alberta workplaces are safer than ever. The statistics released by the AFL today suggest that many Alberta workers are getting injured at work but not receiving WCB benefits they deserve.

The AFL requested Statistics Canada to calculate the 1998 "Work Absence Rate" for Alberta, a measurement of how many workers are missing work due to injury, illness or disability. The StatsCan numbers show that the absence rate because of injury is the highest in almost a decade.

In 1998, the Alberta work absence rate (illness and disability) was 4.0. This is up slightly from 3.9 in 1997 and substantially higher than recent years, when the rate hovered below 3.5. It is the highest figure since 1989.

Workers are also missing more days due to injury. In 1998 an Alberta worker missed an average of 5.5 days due to injury or illness. This is up significantly from 1997 when an average of 5.1 days were missed. It is also the highest rate since 1989.

"Workers are getting hurt more now than at anytime during the past ten years. More workers are getting hurt and they are missing more days," says AFL President Audrey Cormack.

"What this tells us is that WCB's boast about record low time-loss claims need to be viewed with suspicion," adds Cormack. "They have a credibility gap."

In its Annual Report for 1998/99, Alberta Labour states that "lost-time claims" are at their lowest level in history, reaching 3.3 claims per 100 person-years. This is down from 4.9 in 1990. They attribute this drop to the government's policy of self-enforcement and financial "incentives" to employers.

The real reason for the discrepancy, suggests Cormack, is that government and WCB policy hasn't improved safety in workplaces, but has instead discouraged the reporting of accidents to the WCB. "Employers now have a built in motivation to hide WCB claims. And with self-regulation, there is no one in the field making sure employers obey the law," notes Cormack

The AFL also points out that WCB's own statistics show that workplace injuries are at record highs. The total number of claims involving injuries was 126,420 in 1998, the highest level ever recorded and double the number recorded in 1990. "You don't read that side of the equation in government press releases," says Cormack.

The statistics suggest workers are injured at work as frequently as before, but they are not receiving the WCB benefits to which they are entitled. "WCB has balanced its books by lowering the number of legitimate injured workers who receive compensation."

"The reality in Alberta workplaces is that more workers are getting injured than ever before, and that time loss rates are on the increase, just that workers aren't getting their fair shake from the system," says Cormack.

Cormack says these figures demonstrate that it is time to re-think the government's policy of self-regulation and incentive-based occupational safety.

"Sometimes you need the government to act like a government to get things done. In this case, that means enforcing our health and safety laws," Cormack concludes.


Statistics Canada and WCB Compared

AFL Backgrounder -- January 13, 2000
Alberta Work Absence Rates

Statistics Canada Work Absence Rate
Statistics Canada measures in its annual Labour Force Survey the incidence of work absences in Canada. They recently released the figures for Canada for 1998. No Alberta numbers were available. The AFL commissioned StatsCan to produce the 1998 figures for Alberta, the latest year for which data is available.

The "Work Absence Rate" measures the number of workers reporting an absence from work during the week they are surveyed. It is recorded as a percentage of the workforce. The AFL is releasing the percentage of workers who reported missing work "due to own illness or disability", which means only those workers who were sick or injured. Work absences for other reasons were not included. The Survey does not distinguish between work-related and non-work-related illness.

The "Days lost per worker" is the average number of days a worker is absent from work during the calendar year for illness or disability.

Alberta Work Absence Rate (Disability/Illness), Statistics Canada
Absence Rate (%) Days Lost Per Worker (# of days)
1990 3.9 5.1
1991 3.8 5.2
1992 3.5 5.0
1993 3.6 5.1
1994 3.4 4.8
1995 3.3 5.0
1996 3.0 4.3
1997 3.9 5.1
1998 4.0 5.5

WCB Claim Rate
Alberta WCB uses a different rate to measure workplace safety. It utilized the "Lost Time Claim Rate", which is the number of new claims filed with WCB which result in a worker missing time at work. WCB uses this rate to set individual employer premium rates. It is measured as the number of claims per 100 workers.

The "Total Claims" is the total number of new claims opened at WCB during the year, including claims involving no missed time from work.

WCB Claim Rates
Lost Time Claim Rate Total Claims
1990 4.9 64,503
1991 4.3 55,162
1992 3.7 75,835
1993 3.5 92,025
1994 3.5 93,187
1995 3.4 91,349
1996 3.4 98,303
1997 3.4 118,121
1998 3.3 126,420

Add your reaction Share

Labour commemorates National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women

EDMONTON -The Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) will be holding its fourth annual workshop dealing with violence against women on December 6, 1999 - the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.

"Each year the Alberta Federation of Labour strives to bring the terrible social consequences of violence against women to the forefront of Albertans' minds," says AFL President Audrey Cormack. "Only by continuing our efforts to end violence against women can we truly commemorate the National Day of Remembrance and Action."

This year, the AFL is sponsoring a workshop that examines the workplace consequences of domestic violence. Delegates to the workshop will be presented with a panel discussion on various aspects of domestic violence. Panelists will include Sylvia Hawkins, Vice-President of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women (NAC); Heather Richards, Director of the Strathcona Shelter Society; and Glenda Malina, Staff Sergeant with the Edmonton Police Service.

"Our delegates will learn about different types and cycles of violence," says Cormack, "They will examine the legal ramifications of domestic violence, and they will learn how to identify and assist co-workers who are experiencing abuse at home."

The delegates will also participate in the unveiling of the new Edmonton Women's Monument at 12:00 noon on December 6, 1999. The monument, entitled A Vision of Hope, is located in Mary Burlie Park, 97 Street & 104 Avenue in Edmonton.

"I'm very proud of the role labour has played in making this monument a reality," says Cormack. "The Alberta Federation of Labour and its Womens' Committee, the Canadian Auto Workers Union, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, the Canadian Union of Public Employees, the Communications Energy and Paperworkers Union, the Edmonton & District Labour Council and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union all contributed to the monument."

But, Cormack warned that we still have a very long way to go as a society. "When you consider that 51% of women over the age of sixteen in Canada have experienced at least one incident of violence as defined in the Criminal Code, it is evident that we in labour and all Canadians must continue to educate and agitate and organize to put an end to domestic violence," she concluded. "We need to be active - not just on December 6th, but on every single day of the year."


For more information call:

Audrey Cormack, President     @     499-6530(cell)/483-3021(wk)/428-9367(hm)

Add your reaction Share

Alberta to form farm safety advisory body

 

A provincially-backed farm safety council is expected to find ways to reduce the number of on-farm injuries in Alberta without adding more rules or more costs.

The Alberta government on Tuesday announced it will name a farm safety advisory council in the new year, to be co-chaired by "government and industry" with members from farmer, farm worker and farm safety groups and Alberta municipalities.

"This council will bring industry and government together to find ways to reduce farm injuries without increasing the regulatory and financial burden on our producers," Agriculture Minister Jack Hayden said in a release. "We need to work together to find solutions."

Once it's set up, the province said, the council is expected to develop a "joint industry-government action plan" on farm safety for submission to Hayden and the government, addressing the "co-ordination and communication needs" that the ag industry noted in recent consultations.

That's a reference to consultations by the province's ag and employment departments in 2009 and 2010 with stakeholder groups, including "all of the major commodity groups," on ways to enhance health and safety for people working on farms and ranches.

A report on those consultations put forward a number of recommendations for the province to consider -- such as incentives for farms through lower Workers' Compensation or crop insurance premiums, or increased grants to agricultural societies that undertake health and safety activities.

In Alberta, the report noted, most farming- and ranching-related operations are exempt from the province's Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Act, meaning there's no formal OHS investigation of a farm fatality and no government investigation of on-farm injuries for purposes of improved safety practice or third-party reports for insurance claims.

Farming and ranching are also exempt from the Workers' Compensation Act, and while Workers' Compensation Board (WCB) coverage for disability and insurance is available to farmers and ranchers for their employees on a voluntary basis, "costs limit subscriptions," the report noted.

"Empty gesture"

Also, the report noted, the province's Employment Standards Code exempts farm workers from standards on hours of work, overtime, general holiday pay and vacation pay. Farm workers are also excluded from the Labour Relations Code.

The Alberta Federation of Labour on Tuesday criticized the province's proposal for an advisory council as an "empty gesture," with AFL president Gil McGowan predicting the council "will be an industry-dominated joke."

"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," the AFL said.

In his 2008 inquiry into a farm worker's death in 2006 in a silo at a High River-area feedlot, Provincial Court Judge Peter Barley recommended the province lift its exemption excluding farms' paid workers from workplace safety regulations.

"Rather than take that obvious and simple step, we have an industry-dominated advisory body looking at education measures," McGowan said Tuesday. "This is what you get when governments talk only to the business community and not to workers."

The labour group also scoffed at the notion that protections such as employment standards and OHS rules would punish family farms.

"Large agribusiness" dominates the industry, the AFL said Tuesday, with farms of over $250,000 in income accounting for three-quarters of farm cash receipts in 2007.

Country Guide, Wed Nov 24 2010

Add your reaction Share