Yesterday's government report on safety for young workers fails to deal with one of the biggest threats faced by young people working in convenience stores, fast-food restaurants and gas stations: And that's the threat of violent crime.
The report was grim enough: More than 70 per cent of convenience stores and restaurants included in the sample of 118 worksites were found to be in violation of at least one section of the Occupational Health and Safety Code.
But the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) president Gil McGowan says the report would have been even more disturbing if it had looked into the vulnerability of young people working alone on the night shift in thousands of fast food restaurants, convenience stores and gas stations around the province every day of the year.
"If the government was really serious about improving workplace safety and protecting young workers, they would follow B.C.'s lead and impose a ban on working alone in those industries where we know workers are easy prey for criminals. That list includes fast -food restaurants, convenience stores and gas stations."
The issue of violent attacks on night-shift workers rose to prominence in Alberta 11 years ago when Tara Macdonald was bludgeoned to death while working alone at night in a Subway restaurant in Calgary. Despite the conviction of her killer, no law or regulation has been put in place to prevent something similar from happening again.
Violent robberies, attacks and sexual assaults continue to occur across the province to workers who are working alone, but industry refuses to take the obvious steps to prevent this, citing economic concerns for not adding additional workers.
John Dooks, one of the detectives that investigated MacDonald's death, is on record acknowledging that these working people are being preyed upon.
"These kinds of attacks are much less likely to happen if there is more than one person on duty," says McGowan
According to Statistics Canada, Canadians between the ages of 15 and 24 years are 15 times more likely to be victims of violent crime than older Canadians. Furthermore, 13 per cent of all robberies in Alberta occur at gas stations or convenience stores; and about half of all robberies include the use of a weapon.
"British Columbia responded to this problem by imposing a ban on working alone in gas stations," says McGowan. "There is no reason why our government here in Alberta couldn't take the same kind of reasonable precautions."
"The Minister has been directing his staff to conduct safety audits in a wide range of industries – and everywhere they look they're finding an unacceptable number of violations," says McGowan. "I'm frankly getting tired of hearing the minister say he's shocked and appalled. We're all appalled. The big question is: What is he going to do about it? In the case of workplace safety for young workers, a ban on working alone would be a sign that the minister is willing to put his money where his mouth is."
Statistics show that, as of July 2010, there were 3,167 fast food restaurants in Alberta, 1,353 convenience stores and 2,254 gas stations. If three per cent of these worksites become the target of robberies or other violent acts (as the government's own spot audit suggests) that would translate into more than 200 violent incidents province wide.
MEDIA CONTACT: Gil McGowan, AFL president, 780-218-9888