Sticking up for workers

New efforts by the province to stick up for workers who feel they are being treated unfairly by their employers is a welcome step.

The province announced this week it will hire six new employment standards officers and will increase the use of third-party auditors in order to deal with employee complaints about employers and improve compliance with employment standards. The changes were prompted by an increase in the number of complaints filed by workers since the province introduced a new 24/7 online complaint system last December.

The announcement was welcomed by a local voice for workers, the Lethbridge and District Labour Council.

"For too long, employees have had the cards stacked against them, even locally with students (who find) a lot of employers aren't paying holiday pay," said the president of the council, Richard Merrick, in a Lethbridge Herald story in Thursday's edition. "It's really hard for them to get any kind of justice."

Let's hope these changes by Alberta Employment will help deal workers a fair hand.

Sometimes a failure to adhere to employment standards might simply be the result of ignorance on the part of an employer. A new guide for employers to educate them about employment standards should help in that regard.

Other times, employees are simply taken advantage of by their employers and that's where the increased efforts to deal with employee complaints are especially needed.

"We're holding employers accountable and I'm putting them on notice - we'll be doing more than ever before to ensure fairness in the workplace," Alberta Employment and Immigration Minister Thomas Lukaszuk said when announcing the new measures.

Lukaszuk said while most employers treat their employees fairly, his department still receives complaints about maternity leave, unpaid overtime or vacation pay, insufficient termination notice, improper jobs for young workers and other violations.

It isn't only employers who need to be educated about employment standards. Workers, too, need to be aware of what their rights are as employees. Toward that end, the province has unveiled a new awareness campaign called "Tell Your Boss Where to Go." No, the campaign doesn't encourage workers to give their bosses a piece of their mind, but to direct them as to where they can go to obtain information about employment standards.

While the Alberta Federation of Labour praised the government's efforts to provide more enforcement of employment standards, Nancy Furlong, the group's secretary-treasurer, called the changes "a drop in the bucket, and it's the wrong focus. . . The focus should be on education. Somehow we have to make sure that workers and employers know what the rules are."

Even if workers know the rules, often they are afraid to challenge their employers, said Furlong.

If these new efforts do what they're intended to do, perhaps workers will be less afraid to stand up for their rights, and the province will stand up with them to see that fairness triumphs.

Lethbridge Herald, Fri Aug 12 2011

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