The Alberta Federation of Labour responded to the Labour Relations Board decision today to suspend the collection of dues for AUPE health care workers for a two month period by calling the decision "disappointing" and a "slap in the face to workers". The Board ruled on an application to punish AUPE for a strike last year involving 10,000 health care workers.
"Today's decision is a slap in the face to Alberta workers," says AFL President Audrey Cormack. "It sets a dangerous precedent, one that workers must fight."
"This is an extremely disappointing ruling, one that highlights just how badly Alberta's labour law stacks the deck against working people," says Cormack. "Alberta is the only province in the country that allows employers to punish workers in this manner."
Cormack points out that the decision will affect any worker who does not have the right to strike, which is thousands more than any other province. "It is a statement from the government that an individual worker's right to free association will not be respected in this province."
The AFL intends to pursue a challenge to section 112 of the Labour Code as a violation of the Charter of Rights. Section 112 is the section which permits an employer to apply for a suspension of dues. The Board has already set dates for a hearing on these arguments on May 11.
"We intend to intervene in the hearing to argue that the section violates the constitutional right of an individual worker to free association," says Cormack. "We want the section struck down."
Cormack states the AFL's argument that such punitive action allowed under section 112 interferes with a worker's right to association by restricting the ability of the bargaining agent to represent the member. The collection of dues has been found by the Courts to be a protected part of freedom of association, as dues are the vehicle which allows a union to effectively represent their members. If a member is not effectively represented, their rights are breached.
Cormack also points out that the union has already been punished through a court-imposed fine. Any further action is an unjustified interference with workers' rights, Cormack believes.
Cormack says the decision will only further sour labour relations in Alberta. "Alberta's labour laws create poor labour relations by creating an unlevel playing field, this decision tips the balance even further."
"The message to workers today is that your rights won't be respected in this province." Cormack concluded.
For further information contact:
Audrey M. Cormack, President @ 483-3021 wk/499-6530 cell/428-9367 hm
As the 6th International Day of Mourning approaches, the Alberta Federation of Labour released new figures today showing that the rate of workplace accidents in Alberta has nearly doubled in the past decade.
"The tragic reality is that workplaces are more dangerous today than they were 10 years ago," says AFL Secretary-Treasurer Les Steel. "There are three times as many accidents today as a decade ago. Even factoring in the growth in the workforce, Alberta's accident rate is double what is was."
"April 28 is the International Day of Mourning," added Steel. "Last year 118 workers were killed at work. It is a reminder to all of us that we need to do more to make workplaces safer." It is the fourth straight year in which more than 100 workers were killed.
Steel stated that the Alberta government and WCB are not doing enough to combat unsafe workplaces. "We need stronger enforcement from the government and the WCB needs to pay more attention to injured workers and less to the financial bottom line."
Using figures from WCB, the AFL calculated that in 2000 there were just over 12 accidents for every 100 workers. This compares to 6.3 accidents in 1991. "Accident rates have creeped upward during the past decade, and the Alberta government and WCB have not acted to stem the rise."
"Employers can get away with almost anything in health and safety, because there aren't enough inspectors in the field and there is not enough political will to prosecute employers who break the law," says Steel.
The AFL used the total number of claims accepted by WCB and divided it by the number of workers covered to come up with the accident rate. Total claims include all officially reported accidents.
"The only accurate way to determine how safe workplaces are is to measure how often accidents are occurring."
The WCB presents misleading figures to the public, Steel charges. The WCB commonly refers to the lost-time claim rate, which is the rate of claims that resulted in a worker missing work for more than one day. The measure ignores more than 100,000 claims. Some are less serious injuries, not requiring the worker to miss workdays. Some are serious injuries, but the employer prevents time-loss by offering modified work or other programs to keep the employee at work.
"The trend toward modified work and other "make-work" programs distort the true health and safety picture," observes Steel. "Workers are still getting injured, but employers are just getting better at minimizing the loss in productivity." Steel indicates the growth in modified work programs is due in large part to the fact WCB sets premiums based on time-loss claims only, and not all claims, creating an incentive for employers to hide time-loss.
"WCB should be setting premiums based upon the number of accidents in the workplace, not the number of time-loss claims."
To mark Day of Mourning, the AFL will be holding a ceremony at City Hall on Saturday, April 28 at 11:00 am. The International Day of Mourning was started in Canada by the Canadian Labour Congress. It has now spread to more the 100 countries worldwide. Day of Mourning remembers those workers who were killed at work.
"Instead of more of the same old word games, we should use this year's Day of Mourning to make a new effort to make workplaces safer. Two deaths a week is too many. One death is too many," Steel concluded.
For further information contact:
Les Steel, AFL Secretary Treasurer @ 780-483-3021 (wk)/499-4135 (cell)
Jason Foster, Director of Policy Analysis @ 780-483-3021
EDMONTON - The provincial government's budget does not set aside nearly enough money to cover long-overdue wage increases for the majority of public sector workers, says the Secretary Treasurer of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
"It's great that money is being put in place to boost the salaries of nurses and teachers," says Les Steel. "But they're not the only public sector workers who have made sacrifices over the past seven or eight years. Given the size of the budget surplus, this government could have afforded to pay back all public sector workers, not just a chosen few."
Steel was particularly critical of the government's decision to earmark funds specifically for wage increases for nurses and teachers instead of boosting overall funding for regional health authorities, school boards and other public sector employers.
He warned this approach is similar to the one taken by the Harris government in Ontario, where school boards were given money to finance raises for teachers but not enough to pay for increases for support staff. The result has been bitter a three-week strike by support workers.
"The only way to avoid a similar scenario from playing our here is to make sure public employers have enough funds to negotiate fairly with all of their employees," says Steel, adding that, when inflation is taken into account, most public sector workers in the province are currently earning between 10 and 15 percent less than the did in 1993.
Steel also expressed regret that the government is not using its huge budget surplus "to build something lasting for the future."
"This government is taking oil and gas out of the ground at a record pace. But what will we have to show for it when it's all gone?" he asks.
"The revenues generated by this bonanza could be used to leave a real legacy for future generations. We could be investing in a better system of workplace training and apprenticeship to meet the shortage of skilled workers. We could be investing in a universal, $5-dollar-a-day childcare program that would ease the financial crunch on young families.
"We could be investing in a pharmacare program that brings down they cost of prescription drugs. We could be doing any or all of these things - but instead the government has decided to do muddle along. So in the end, this budget represents nothing more than a tremendous, squandered opportunity."
For more information call:
Les Steel, Secretary Treasurer @ (780) 483-3021
Gil McGowan, AFL Communications @ (780) 483-3021
EDMONTON - Yesterday's Throne Speech was much like the Conservative's recent election campaign - long on reassuring rhetoric and short on substance, says Audrey Cormack, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
"As usual, the government was quick to take credit for our province's strong economy - even though the current boom has much more to do with high international prices for oil and gas than that any policies adopted by the government," says Cormack.
"At the same time, they are still refusing to acknowledge that, despite our wealth, Alberta is facing a number of serious problems. For example, they are still refusing to admit that power deregulation has been a costly failure. And they are still refusing to acknowledge that classes are too large in our schools; that funding for municipalities is inadequate; and that tuition fees are too high in our colleges and universities."
Even in cases where the government promised to take action, Cormack says the Throne Speech focused on symptoms without getting at the root causes of problems.
"They talked about the need to address poverty - but they didn't talk about increasing the minimum wage. They talked about giving our children the best possible start in life - but they didn't talk about improving access to day care or reducing class size. This continues to be a government that simply cannot connect the dots."
Cormack predicts that Albertans who actually took the time to listen to or read the Throne Speech will come away feeling disappointed.
"Here in Alberta, we have been blessed with abundant resources - resources and wealth that make us the envy of the country," says Cormack. "We could be using our wealth to invest in people and build a better future for our children. But instead of progressive investment, we get tax cuts for the wealthy, deregulation and an incredibly expensive and ill-conceived rebate program. In this Throne Speech the government could have outlined a real vision for post-debt Alberta - instead all we got was platitudes. It was a wasted opportunity."
For more information call:
Audrey Cormack, AFL President at 499-6530 (cell) or 483-3021 (work)
CALGARY - An agreement to end Calgary's 41-day old transit strike is within reach if city council is willing to show some movement on the key issues of shuttle buses and a wage study for ticketed trades people, says a spokesperson for the Alberta Federation of Labour.
"Those are the two big issues that are still on the table," said AFL Secretary Treasurer Les Steel. "If the political will is there, this strike could be over tomorrow and the drivers could get back to the job of providing top-notch service to Calgarians."
Most Calgarians would be frustrated if they knew just how quickly and inexpensively a deal could be reached, said Steel. He pointed out that the union is now willing to accept an increase in the number of shuttle buses to seven percent of the city's fleet during daylight hours. Previously, they had drawn the line at six percent.
Unfortunately, the city is still refusing to budge from its demand that shuttle buses make up nine percent of the city's fleet. The city is also refusing to consider a wage study to determine if the mechanics, electricians and other ticketed trades people working for Calgary transit are being paid fairly compared to other trades people in the province.
"At the end of the day, this all about fairness and common sense," said Steel. "All the drivers want is an assurance that their jobs aren't going to be put on the chopping block. And all the trades people are saying is that it's going to be hard to recruit and retain people if wages fall below the prevailing provincial average."
Steel says it would cost the city only $187,000 more to operate the transit system under the union's latest contract than it did before the strike. He says that figure pales in comparison to the $6 million that has already been spent on taxi vouchers and the $2 million that the city has spent on advertising.
"Add to that all the overtime wages that are being paid to management personnel and the inconvenience that is being caused to commuters and it becomes clear that the cost of this strike is too high," said Steel. "The time has come for city council to abandon its hard-line position and start treating its employees as respected partners, not adversaries. Now that the union has made a move on shuttle buses, there's a real opportunity to settle this. It's an opportunity city council shouldn't squander."
For information, contact:
Les Steel, Secretary Treasurer @ 780-483-3021(wk)/499-4135 (cell)
This booklet examines what effects this has had on the lives of working people in Alberta. In a sense, it represents a snapshot of daily life for workers that is then compared to a similar snapshot taken 25 years ago in 1975. This provides the perspective of an historic view that compares the lives and working conditions faced by two different generations of Alberta workers and their families.
EDMONTON - The Klein Conservatives are walking into the provincial election with their "eyes firmly shut and their ears closed to the real concerns of Albertans," says the president of Alberta's largest labour organization.
Audrey Cormack, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, described yesterday's Throne Speech as a big disappointment. She said it proves the government has lost touch with the real priorities of citizens.
"Voters in this province have made it clear that they have serious questions about government policy in areas like health care, taxation and utilities," said Cormack after the speech was delivered by Lt. Governor Lois Hole.
"Yet, there was no mention of Bill 11 or private hospitals. There was also no recognition that government policies have contributed greatly to soaring utility prices. And there was no discussion of the fundamentally inequitable nature of the government's new flat tax."
Cormack said the Throne Speech's silence on these issues suggests that the Klein Tories are content to allow the creeping privatization of Medicare. It also suggests that the government is not listening to the thousands of Albertans who have raised concerns about out-of-control utility prices and new tax laws that favour the well-off at the expense of working families.
"This is more of what we've come to expect from the Tories: vague promises and platitudes masking a hidden agenda that favours privatization, deregulation and tax cuts for the wealthy."
Cormack scoffed at the promise of a "Future Summit" to map out a direction for the province once the government has eliminated its debt.
"This is shaping up to be another stage-managed attempt to get a rubber stamp from the public for policies that have already been decided upon," she said, adding that the government appears to be considerably less open and visionary than the school children quoted in the Throne Speech.
"I was pleased to see that 11 year-olds have a vision for the future and are concerned about things like equality, respect and protecting the environment. It's too bad this government can't come up with a similar kind of progressive vision."
For further information call:
Audrey Cormack, President @ 483-3021(wk)/ 499-6530(cell)/ 428-9367(hm)
EDMONTON - "The changes to the maternity and parental leave provisions in the Employment Standards Act clearly places importance back on Alberta's families. These changes benefit all working parents," says Audrey Cormack, President of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
"Working mothers and fathers are no longer being penalized for choosing parenthood in this province. By mirroring the changes to those made to federal EI creates a level of jurisdictional equity that we rarely see in Alberta."
Cormack's comments follow the government's announcement to extend job-protected employment leave to parents for up to 52 weeks. The changes to the Employment Standards Act also include new provisions for job-protected parental leave for fathers and adoptive parents. Alberta's leave provisions are now in line with other provinces.
"I want to commend Mr. Dunford for demonstrating the political will to adopt all of the committee's recommendations. I am pleased to finally see a public consultation process that worked quickly and effectively," says Cormack.
"We are happy with today's announcement, but we as a Federation will still be lobbying the federal government to ensure that the benefits working parents receive will actually allow them to take advantage of the longer leave periods. For women and low-income families, living on 55% of your salary for an entire year is out of the question."
For further information call:
Audrey Cormack, President @ 499-6530(cell)/ 483-3021(wk)/ 428-9367(hm)
Edmonton - The year 2000 won't be fondly remembered by the working people of Alberta says Audrey Cormack, President of the Alberta Federation of Labour. Although unemployment was down, there were no other positive indicators for workers in an economy that showed strong growth.
"With the provincial unemployment rate at just 4.8 per cent," said Cormack, "and with exports and the energy, manufacturing and retail sales sectors all showing strong growth, you would expect there to be a real improvement in wages."
Average weekly earnings actually did rise by 3.9 per cent between September 1999 and September 2000, but Cormack doesn't place much credence in the statistic. "Once you realize that average hourly wages basically remained flat throughout 2000, it is obvious that the increase in average weekly wages is attributable to increased overtime work and not to actual wage increases at all," she observed. [Average hourly wages actually declined slightly from $15.66 in January 2000 to $15.63 in August, 2000]
"And," she added, "with the year to year inflation rate at 4.4 per cent in November, it is painfully clear that most Alberta workers are actually making less real income this year than last year."
The continued depression of wage levels is going to create real hardships for working families in the New Year, according to Cormack. "Albertans are just beginning to face the consequences of the Klein government's power deregulation policies," she said. "Let's face it, Alberta is a cold country - and electrical power and gas heating are not simply commodities to Albertans, they are necessities."
Cormack sees no immediate end to the spiraling costs of electricity and heating for Alberta households. "No quick-fix cheques from the government will ever address the intolerable increase in family energy costs," she said. "With wages stagnant, workers are going to be in trouble."
Cormack blames the continued attack on workers rights to organize and bargain collectively for the continued lack of wage gain in the province.
"The year 2000 was marred by several key labour disputes that clearly posed the government on the side of anti-union employers," says Cormack. "The refusal of the government to intervene in the Calgary Herald strike - despite the fact that then-owner Conrad Black publicly announced that he was going to bust the union - sent a clear message to all employers and workers that the provincial government wasn't interested in protecting the rights of Albertans to belong to unions.
Cormack also points to the strike/lock-out at Brewers Distributing Limited where the government refused to check the employers decision to simply contract out long-time unionized workers' jobs to a cheaper non-union company. "In the BDL dispute, the government basically gave employers the green light to contract-out entire operations to evade the democratic rights of unionized workers," says Cormack.
Cormack sees little difference in government activity in the public sector. "Although hospital workers got modest wage increases," she notes, "it was only after an 'illegal' strike - and the government is still seeking punitive damages against the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees for having the audacity to actually stand up for their members."
Things were even worse for non-unionized workers according to Cormack. "The lack of policing and enforcement of the most basic workers' rights contained in the Employment Standards Code is a disgrace," says Cormack. "And, even when offenders are caught and found guilty of violating workers' rights - as in the recent Buffet World case - the courts refuse to take effective action."
"The year 2000 was not a good one for working people," summarizes Cormack, "and things don't look any better for 2001. Costs are rising, wages are depressed, and we are dealing with a chronic shortfall in public services and programs like health care and education which is costing us and our families in many ways."
Nonetheless, Cormack remains hopeful. "I believe that the working men and women of Alberta will not accept the dismal future the Klein government seems to have mapped out for them," she concludes. "We will mobilize and organize to force some real, positive changes in our social and economic circumstances."
For more information please call:
Audrey Cormack, President, AFL @ 780-499-6530 (cell) / 780-428-9367 (hm)
EDMONTON - The Brussels-based International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) was critical of Alberta labour laws in its annual global survey of labour rights released today.
"The ICTFU survey details attacks on labour rights and on individual union leaders in 113 countries," said Alberta Federation of Labour Secretary Treasurer Les Steel. "And there, along with grim examples from countries like Ethiopia, Columbia and Nepal, is Alberta," said Steel.
Although Canada only merits one-and-a-half pages in the massive 189 page report, Alberta is singled out for the first third of the Canadian section. (see attached)
"The ICFTU specifically condemns the exlcusion of basic labour rights for health care workers in the Alberta Labour Code," noted Steel. "It also criticizes 'excessive government intervention in collective bargaining', the provision of 'ways for the employer to bypass the union as collective bargaining agent', and the lack of automatic certification remedies for the Labour Relations Board."
"The attention paid to Alberta in the ICFTU report should be a wake-up call to the Klein government," said Steel. "Our labour laws are an international disgrace."
"Workers rights in Alberta clearly need to be strengthened and more effectively enforced," concluded Steel.
For more information contact:
Les Steel, Secretary Treasurer at (780) 483-3021 or cell (780) 499-4135
Canada: Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights (2000)
Cases before the ILO's Committee on Freedom of Association
The federal government of Canada and the various provincial governments do not fully accept the trade union rights of public employees and regularly use legislation to restrict them.
Alberta restricts strikes by public hospital employees, including kitchen staff, porters and gardeners. While arbitration is provided to settle labour disputes for public employees, the following are excluded from what can be arbitrated: work organisation, the assignment of duties, the determination of the number of employees, job evaluations, job selection, appointment, promotion, training, transfers and pensions. The law provides lengthy and strict limits and guidelines which arbitrators are bound to follow in deciding awards.
In the private sector, Alberta's Labour Relations Code allows excessive government intervention in collective bargaining and provides ways for the employer to bypass the union as collective bargaining agent. The scope for employer interference has made it virtually impossible for workers in the retail and banking sectors to organise against determined opposition from employers. A 1998 revision of the code removed the jurisdiction of the Labour Relations Board to automatically certify a bargaining unit where serious unfair labour practices had been found.
In November, after failing to reach a first collective agreement in over one year of negotiations, trade unions representing workers employed at the Calgary Herald newspaper went on strike.
Section 88 of the code presumes the use of strike-breakers by the employer and provides that strikers only be given "preference" over strike-breakers in getting their jobs back after a dispute. The strikers must apply in writing with restrictive time limits. The authorities also use injunctions against strikes and strikers, and make excessive use of the police during strikes. Alberta does not allow workers in agriculture and horticulture to organise nor to bargain collectively.
New Brunswick is another province that does not allow agricultural and horticultural workers to organise nor to bargain collectively.
The Manitoba Public Schools Amendment Act of 1997 restricts the powers of interest arbiters in disputes.
In Newfoundland, many public sector workers cannot join the union of their choice and the right to strike is restricted in the public service because the employer has broad powers to designate essential services. The provincial government has reported to the ILO that it was establishing an effective procedure for defining essential services.
In Ontario, agricultural workers, domestic workers, architects, dentists, land surveyors, lawyers and doctors are excluded from the legal framework protecting trade union rights. The Ontario Labour Relations and Employment Statute Law Amendments, 1995, excluded these categories of workers from the protection of the Ontario Labour Relations Act and from other statutes regulating collective bargaining for employees in specific sectors.
The existing organising rights of these workers were terminated as a result of this law, and collective agreements that were in force were nullified. The same legislation also removed existing protection of trade union recognition and collective agreements for contract service workers, such as cleaning crews, food service workers and security guards, in the event of a sale of business or of a change in contractor.
The Savings and Restructuring Act 1996, the Public Sector Transition Stability Act 1997, the Public Sector Dispute Resolution Act, 1997, and the Social Contract Act, 1993 deal with compulsory interest arbitration in specific areas of the public sector. They allow the authorities to interfere in the establishment of labour tribunals and arbitration boards.
The Education Quality Improvement Act of 1997 interfered into the collective bargaining of teachers.
The 1998 Back to School Act brought strikes and lockouts to an end in secondary schools in eight school board jurisdictions.
In 1999, Ontario adopted the Act to Prevent Unionisation with respect to Community Participation under the Ontario Works Act, 1997. This amended the 1997 Ontario Works Act so as to prohibit people taking part in community participation (work-fare - compulsory work as a condition of receiving benefits) from joining unions, bargaining collectively or striking.
The Maintenance of Saskatchewan Power Corporation's Operations Act, 1998, which extended an expired agreement, imposed new wage rates, and took away the right to strike for three years.
The federal government regularly passed back-to-work legislation to end strikes. In March legislation forced striking employees back to work at the federal treasury, and at the Canadian Grain Commission in Vancouver.
Throughout the period under review the 1997 Postal Services Continuation Act interfered with collective bargaining in the postal sector.
The federal government has recently amended the federal labour code to define activities to be maintained during strikes. Although the change does not expressly prohibit employers from using replacement workers during strikes, it only bans them where the aim is to undermine a union's representational capacity.