AFL calls for changes to Employment Standards Code that would make it easier for people to stay home from work when they're experiencing swine flu symptoms
If the Alberta government is serious about slowing the spread of the H1N1 flu virus, it should amend the provincial Employment Standards Code to include protections for workers who follow the advice of public health authorities and stay home from work when they're experiencing flu-like symptoms.
Without such protections, thousands of workers - especially those in low-wage, service sector jobs - will continue coming to work when they're sick, thereby jeopardizing their own health and undermining efforts to bring the H1N1 pandemic under control.
That was the message delivered today by Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan to an audience of 500 registered nurses gathered in Edmonton to attend the United Nurses of Alberta's annual general meeting.
"The employment standards codes in six other Canadian jurisdictions give workers the protections they need," says McGowan.
"All of those codes say that workers cannot be disciplined, demoted or dismissed for taking time off work because of short-term illness. The Alberta code, on the other hand, doesn't say anything at all about sick leave. As a result, workers whose employers don't independently provide paid or unpaid sick leave - and we think that's a majority or workers in Alberta - face the prospect of being punished for doing the right thing."
Statistics on the number of employees with access to paid or unpaid sick leave are spotty. But studies from Statistics Canada and other sources suggest that only about 57 per cent of working Canadians have employers whose policies allow them to take time off when they're sick. Access to these benefits is much higher in unionized workplaces (77 per cent) compared to non-union workplaces (45 per cent).
"Given the fact that the available figures are national and that Alberta has a lower rate of union coverage than other provinces, we're pretty confident that the percentage of workers in Alberta with formal access to sick leave through their employers in only at or below fifty per cent," said McGowan. "For everyone else, the only protections they could have would be found in the provincial Employment Standards Code - but those protections just aren't there."
McGowan says that problems exist even in workplaces that do have formal sick leave policies because many employers actively discourage workers from taking sick days even if they're entitled to them.
McGowan has asked for an emergency meeting with Employment Minister Hector Goudreau. At the meeting, he will present him with draft amendments to the Code that could be introduced and adopted by the Legislature quickly.
"The good news is that the Legislature has just resumed sitting," says McGowan. "If there's the political will among the government and opposition parties, they could have new emergency legislation passed by this time next week. They could also use debate on new legislation as a platform to send a clear message to employers about the need to make it easier, not harder, for sick workers to follow the advice of public health authorities."
For more information call: Gil McGowan, AFL President @ (780) 218-9888
A pilot program that would fast-track the immigration process for trades workers began accepting applications Wednesday is a welcome change for the oilsands, says Oil Sands Developers Group Executive Director Ken Chapman.
However, Chapman says the program doesn't address challenges the natural resource sector has with immigration policies and as a result, the demand for blue-collar workers in Wood Buffalo and the oilsands will likely intensify in 2013.
The changes to the Temporary Foreign Workers program will reduce much of the red tape needed for trained foreign workers that specialize in 43 occupations. Some of these jobs include heavy-duty mechanics, ironworkers, millwrights, electrical work and welders — all jobs that are in short supply in Alberta.
Only 3,000 workers will be admitted through the program, a number Chapman says is problematic.
"That number alone is nowhere near to meeting the needs of Wood Buffalo or the oilsands, let alone other big projects in Canada," says Chapman. "We need skilled workers quickly and we're still competing with other markets with their own labour shortages."
While manufacturing has wavered in the last ten years, natural resources jobs have emerged as key industries for Canada's economic success.
British Columbia and Saskatchewan are both beginning to exploit their shale gas and oil deposits on a massive scale, while the territories, Ontario and Quebec have increased activities in their natural mineral and metal mining sector.
The program, titled the Federal Skilled Trades Program, gives preference to applicants with Canadian job offers and have a basic knowledge of English or French. At least two years of work experience in their trade is a bonus.
"Canadian employers have long been asking for ways to get the skilled tradespeople they need to meet demands in many industries across the country," said Immigration Minister Jason Kenney on Wednesday. "We've listened to their concerns and created this program in response."
In July, the Alberta Federation of Labour told Today they were skeptical of the program and were worried that it would allow fewer safeguards for foreign workers.
Nancy Furlong, secretary-treasurer of the AFL, pointed to a 2010 provincial report that found 74% of employers who used the Temporary Foreign Worker program had violated the Employment Standards Act regarding pay rates and record keeping.
"Canadians should get first crack at these jobs. But the Harper government is more interested in the bottom line of their friends in the non-union construction sector," she said. "The result is employers can use these workers in ways that Canadians might not tolerate,"
To meet the labour demands in northeastern Alberta, Chapman says more needs to be done to make the region more accommodating to the needs of foreign workers.
"The last census saw about 15% of the population here came from outside of Canada. That should be sufficient to have, at least on a visiting basis, immigration counselings so workers can deal with immigration issues here, not in Vancouver, Edmonton or Calgary," he said. "We need to give them more flexibility, make it easier to become citizens, easier for their families to come over if they're here long-term."
Chapman would also like to see language classes for promising skilled workers, rather than see them turned away due to a language barrier.
"If they're qualified and good on the tools but have problems in language, let's help them and not reject them," he said.Fort McMurray Today, Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2013Byline: Vincent McDermott
Minister must do more to protect Alberta workers; Waiting for complaints to be filed won’t prevent abuse in the workplace, says AFL
EDMONTON – Moves to improve the enforcement of Alberta’s Employment Standards code are welcome, but the government approach is wrong and doesn’t go far enough in protecting workers, says the province’s largest labour group, the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL).
“Once again, Minister of Employment and Immigration Thomas Lukaszuk has chosen to focus on responding to complaints, instead of being proactive in preventing unfair and abusive workplace practices,” says Nancy Furlong, Secretary Treasurer of the AFL, which represents 145,000 workers. “Waiting for complaints to come in is an abdication of the responsibility the province has to enforce Employment Standards. Many employees, particularly vulnerable Temporary Foreign Workers, young workers, or people newly hired may be unaware of their rights or afraid to complain,” she says.
“The government’s hiring of six new officers is too little to have any serious effect on ensuring Employment Standards are enforced at the thousands worksites all over the province. The AFL is also concerned at the increased use of third-party auditors. Enforcing standards is a provincial responsibility and can only be done effectively by provincial inspectors. Third-party auditors will simply not have the same authority or impact as government officers when dealing with problem employers. We are not sure why it is appropriate to go to third parties. Enforcement is an obligation of the province and as such audit should be an integral part of the operation,” she says.
“At the root of the problem is that the minister is focused on the needs of employers over the needs of Albertans. For example, he has chosen to produce a toolkit for employers to remind them of their responsibilities, but not one for workers to remind them of their rights.”
“What Albertans really need and deserve are stronger Employment Standards, more proactive investigations to ensure standards are being maintained, real enforcement of those standards and more prosecutions of violators. Alberta must also act to end the unfair discrimination against farm workers and domestic workers, who are excluded from the Employment Standards that protect other workers and from Occupational Health and Safety laws and Workers Compensation,” says Furlong.
MEDIA CONTACT: Nancy Furlong, AFL Secretary Treasurer @ 780 720-8945
The province is investigating claims by nine former employees of a Whyte Avenue tattoo and bodypiercing shop that they didn't receive severance pay and T4 slips after they were laid off last month.
"It was shocking for us, really," said Sarai Jorgenson, former manager of Strange City Body Modification. "On Tuesday, we had a job and on Wednesday we didn't."
Jorgenson says Revenue Canada froze the company bank account in March.
After employees became concerned, the owner agreed to lay them off.
Former manager Sarai Jorgenson said that everyone is devastated because they loved their jobs and their clients. Former manager Sarai Jorgenson said that everyone is devastated because they loved their jobs and their clients. (CBC)
Instead, workers say their records of employment indicate that they quit, meaning that they can't qualify for Employment Insurance.
Some were able to find new jobs. But others are struggling without EI.
"It's really been devastating for all of us," Jorgenson said. "We loved our jobs, we loved the studio, we loved our clients."
The owner of Strange City, Richard Blaskievich, declined an interview with CBC News, but said he has met with his former employees and is trying to work things out.
CBC News has learned Blaskievich has filed for bankruptcy twice before. His last claim in 2010 lists a debt to Canada Revenue worth more than $430,000.
The former workers have spread word about their plight through social media.
The case has caught the attention of the province's largest labour group, the Alberta Federation of Labour.
"This story frankly smells pretty bad and I think it definitely warrants a pretty serious investigation by the provincial government's employment standards officials," said AFL president Gil McGowan.
The Alberta Employment Standards branch has received a formal complaint and will investigate.CBC News, Friday, Apr 12 2013
Swiss Chalet case shows how employers can use weak laws to rip-off workers
EDMONTON – Alberta's poorly written minimum wage laws are subject to abuse, says Nancy Furlong, Secretary Treasurer of the Alberta Federation of Labour, and Doug O'Halloran, President of the United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 401 (UFCW 401).
"Employers are taking advantage of weak two-tiered minimum wage laws to rip off the lowest-paid workers in Alberta," says Furlong. "A case before the Alberta Labour Relations Board (ALRB) shows how unscrupulous employers can classify minimum-wage earners as 'liquor servers,' even though they rarely if ever serve booze, in order to pay them the lower of the two minimum wages."
The case, brought to the ALRB by UFCW 401 on behalf of workers at the West End Swiss Chalet in Edmonton, centres around the employer's attempt to pay workers the liquor servers' minimum wage of $9.05 an hour, rather than the general minimum wage of $9.40 an hour (will increase to $9.75 on September 1), though they rarely, if ever, serve alcohol. The $9.75 minimum wage allows for the 'occasional' service of liquor, which is precisely the situation of the workers at Swiss Chalet.
"Servers at Swiss Chalet serve chicken and ribs, not martinis and scotch," says Doug O'Halloran, President of UFCW 401. "But the employer is demanding that they accept the lower wage, the one for workers who frequently serve booze. The employer is prepared to lockout these workers in order to get his way and pay them a lower minimum wage than they're entitled."
"There are nearly 26,000 Alberta workers earning minimum wage and only a small minority – like the workers at this Swiss Chalet - have the protection of a union," says O'Halloran. "If one dodgy employer has figured out a way to screw these workers out of $0.35 an hour, you can bet that there are dozens, maybe even hundreds, of other employers doing the same thing."
"There should be one wage for all minimum wage earners in Alberta, one that allows them to earn enough to stay out of poverty," says Furlong. "An all-party committee of the Legislature in 2010 also recommended that there be one wage for all minimum-wage earners, but the government caved to the restaurant lobby and ignored that advice."
"Now the chickens have come home to roost. Employers in the restaurant industry are using the government's shoddy laws and lax enforcement to swindle the lowest-paid workers in the province."
Douglas O'Halloran, President, UFCW 401, 403-861-2000
Nancy Furlong, AFL Secretary Treasurer, 780-720-8945
In yesterday's Throne Speech, the Alberta government announced plans to review the province's often controversial Employment Standards Code -- the law that sets minimum standards for things like overtime, vacations, minimum wage and hours of work.
But while many people agree that changes are long overdue, the Alberta Federation of Labour fears a review of the Code under the direction of the current government may simply make a bad situation worse.
"This is the same government that is seriously considering a tearing up its own Human Rights legislation in order to satisfy the whims of a few big oil companies that want the right to impose mandatory drug testing on their workers," says AFL president Kerry Barrett.
"What concerns us is that this review will end up being yet another example of the government bending over backward to satisfy the demands of employers. And, yet again, the interests of working people will be ignored in the process."
In particular, Barrett worries that the government may decide to change rules on overtime -- so that employers can require their employees to work longer hours without overtime pay.
"That's exactly what the government of Conservative Premier Mike Harris did in Ontario a five years ago when they introduced a 60-hour work week," says Barrett. "Unfortunately, this kind of change is probably exactly what the government means when they say the Code needs to be made more 'current and relevant.'"
The impact of watered-down rules on overtime will be particularly harmful here in Alberta, says Barrett, because Albertans work more hours and put in more overtime (both paid and unpaid) than workers in any other province.
"Extending the work week or giving employers other ways to weasel out of paying overtime will hit many working Albertans hard," says Barrett. "It has the potential to take a really big bite out of the budgets of thousands and thousands of families."
Instead of weakening Employment Standards protections, Barrett says the government should focus on beefing up enforcement of existing rules.
"The biggest problem with Employment Standards today is not the wording of the Code," says Barrett. "Instead, it's the fact that the onus is always on employees to complain. The government almost never launches its own investigations. And even when employers are found guilty of violations, they rarely face more than a stern warning and a slap on the wrist. That kind of weak-kneed approach to enforcement is what really has to change in this province."
For more information call
Kerry Barrett, AFL President @ (780) 720-8945 (cell)
Gil McGowan, AFL Communications @ (780) 483-3021 (work)