CALGARY -- Union leaders marking Labour Day with a downtown barbecue lamented the recession's toll on Alberta's workforce.
And they accused the federal government of shortchanging the province's residents by imposing stricter qualifications for employment insurance.
Workers in Calgary and Edmonton must work 665 hours before becoming eligible for EI benefits compared to 560 hours in Montreal and Toronto and 420 for Newfoundland and Labrador, said Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
The official number of unemployed Albertans has grown from 73,000 a year ago to 160,000 today, added the union chief.
"There's no other province that's lost jobs like Alberta," said McGowan.
"Only 40% of those people are eligible for benefits."
That's due to Alberta's traditional status as an economic powerhouse, which no longer holds true, he said.
The situation amounts to a betrayal on the part of Prime Minister Stephen Harper who hails from Calgary, said McGowan.
"Stephen Harper should be ashamed of himself for not reforming a system that discriminates against his constituents," he said, adding Albertans receive a maximum of 43 weeks of EI compared to 50 weeks in Ontario and Quebec.
Barbecue organizers handed out free hamburgers and hot dogs supplied by unionists to hundreds of people -- many of them clearly needy, said McGowan.
"The story of this Labour Day is not about working, it's unemployment," he said.
Edmonton Sun, Mon Sept 7 2009
Byline: Bill Kaufmann