Stelmach questions employability of unskilled workers

Premier Ed Stelmach speaks during an evening rally at the Capri Hotel in Red Deer, AB on November 6, 2009 during the Alberta PC party convention. (Jordan Verlage/Sun Media) The president of Alberta's largest labour union is blasting Premier Ed Stelmach's suggestion that some victims of the recession need to change their attitudes.

During a lunch time address to the St. Albert Chamber of Commerce today, Stelmach said Alberta is poised to rebound from the economic turmoil and will benefit from a deep labour pool, but only for those with the right outlook.

"The A and B Crews are working and the C Crew is at home until they change their attitude," he said, during prepared remarks.

"This is the new reality in a time of recession."

But Alberta Federation of Labour President Gil McGowan said workers who found themselves unemployed through no fault of their own deserve a better fate than to have their attitudes questioned by their leader.

"This is a disturbing comment coming from the premier in a time of recession - he seems to be blaming the unemployed for being unemployed," he said.

"To suggest these people are unemployed because they've chosen to be or are lazy is frankly ridiculous and disrespectful."

The AFL represents 29 different Alberta unions and McGowan said the construction industry, in particular, has been hard hit in the recession, leaving many skilled workers on the hunt for only a handful of jobs.

Tom Olsen, a spokesman for the premier's office, clarified Stelmach's remarks, noting he was referring to an overabundance of unskilled workers who benefited from the boom a few years earlier, securing high paying jobs without any real training.

He said the premier's suggestion was aimed at those who lost their jobs because they didn't have the appropriate training, and believes they need to take the time to boost their skills while the economy has cooled.

"Basically, what (Stelmach) was saying was you need skills to get work and if your attitude is you don't want to go out and get those skills and get trained, then you're going to be out of luck," Olsen said.

"There have been many people laid off through no fault of their own but there are others who sit back when they were making $80,000 a year with no training and are grousing about the fact that they're out of work."

According to the latest numbers from Statistics Canada, Alberta's employment has fallen 3.3% or 68,000 workers since October 2008, the sharpest decline in Canada.

Last month alone, 15,000 jobs were lost, pushing the current unemployment rate to 7.5%.

Edmonton Sun, Thurs Nov 12 2009
Byline: Shawn Logan

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