Prepare for Autumn of Unrest, Says AFL President

In his annual Labour Day message AFL President Les Steel predicts a fall of labour unrest, as workers take action for fairness at their workplaces.

"As Albertans sit on our decks, enjoying the last bits of summer weather, we should be readying ourselves for a fall of labour disputes. I predict that this fall will be a busy one for the labour movement," says Steel.

"Health care strikes in the summer were just the beginning. I believe we will see workers in many industries take steps to defend their rights. It will be a busy fall."

"Two things are combining to create an atmosphere of worker militancy," says Steel. "First, two large groups of public sector workers have had enough of years of cutbacks and overwhelming workloads. Federal employees and teachers will both be taking action, and possibly striking, to address important issues of overwork, stress and the quality of the service they provide the public."

"On the private sector side, workers want to make sure they are getting a fair share of the economic prosperity. Employers are making record profits. There is a growing labour shortage and the growing need for workers is giving workers leverage that they will put to good use. This is especially true in the building trades."

Steel says workers' growing willingness to take a stand against their employer is a sign that the labour movement is on the rebound. "Workers have taken a lot of hits in the past few years, and I think there is renewed determination to balance the scales again."

Steel predicted the public sector will lead the season of labour action. Teachers are expected to take action when the school year begins in September, and could be on a widespread strike later in the fall.

"Teachers have had to put up with years of overcrowded classrooms and increasing pressure to hold our schools together under adverse conditions. Now that the government has racked up years of multi-billion dollar surpluses, they want attention turned back to education and fixing our school system."

"The government has insulted the teachers by basically legislating the wage increase before negotiations could go anywhere. The government has created this impasse with its arrogant approach to addressing education issues."

Steel highlighted that a serious teacher shortage is looming, and the current government's attitude will only make things worse. "We need to make sure we keep our teachers and attract many more young people into the profession. This government is doing the opposite."

Similar issues abound at the federal government, Steel observed. "PSAC members working for the federal government will be on a large scale strike within weeks, and maybe days," says Steel.

"They know that government cuts have affected the quality of services, despite their best efforts to hold things together. Their strike is about supporting public services like EI, pensions, environment and other programs."

"Now is the time for workers to be more determined in our efforts for a fair wage and working conditions. The economy is strong and many sectors, including construction, retail and health care, are experience labour shortages," Steel points out. "This gives workers a rare opportunity to use some economic leverage to improve working conditions."

Steel also warns Albertans that a review of the labour laws will be coming sometime in the next year or so. "With the right wing tendencies of this government, I won't be holding my breath for any great improvements."

He indicates that the AFL will take a lead role in any review that occurs, making sure the government hears the voice of workers.

"We will be very busy. The work of defending workers' rights never ends," Steel concluded.

For further information, contact:

Les Steel, President   @ (780) 499-4135(cell)  or (780) 475-4668(home)

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