EDMONTON - A new online system for workers to report grievances against their employers has worked so well the province has been "flooded" with complaints to investigate, Employment and Immigration Minister Thomas Lukaszuk says.
To address the backlog, he announced Wednesday his department is hiring six new employment standards officers, bringing the total to 60 across the province.
In the 2010-11 fiscal year that ended March 31, the province received approximately 6,400 complaints — a 20 per cent jump from the previous year. The upward trend has continued.
While the government continues to receive complaints in person and by phone, Lukaszuk said the rise is entirely due to the new online system launched in December.
"The moment we introduced the new online complaint filing system. we have been, to some degree, flooded with complaints," he said.
"We anticipated there would be some increase, particularly among young workers who tend to be more proficient with technology, but I found the increase to exceed my expectations."
All reports are put through an initial review. Those found to have substance are investigated, which is why new officers are required, he said.
As a result of the complaints received in 2010-11, about $5 million in unpaid earnings was identified as owing to workers. While much of that was generated by employers who made errors interpreting employment standards, Lukaszuk said the province has decided to get tougher with those who deliberately or repeatedly flout the law.
Third-party auditors will be brought in to deal with companies that are evasive or refuse to open their books to investigators, he said. The companies will be billed for the auditors' expenses.
In addition, the province has created a new tool kit for employers to help improve awareness of employment standards, and provide help on calculating workers' pay, overtime and holidays.
"It takes away the excuse," Lukaszuk said. "Following this announcement, no employer will be able to say, 'I didn't know what to pay my employee.' "
Liberal labour critic Hugh MacDonald, who is running for party leader, called Lukaszuk's announcement a good start but said the province needs to prosecute more of the worst offenders.
Lukaszuk said there may be additional announcements, including the possibility of introducing fines for companies with poor adherence to the regulations.
Nancy Furlong of the Alberta Federation of Labour said the government needs to go further to protect workers and ensure complaints are handled in a timely manner.
"The improvements are welcome, although they have thousands of complaints, so whether six new people will be enough is hard to say."
Calgary Herald, Wed Aug 10 2011
Byline: Keith Gerein
AFL policy paper presented to AFL 47th Constitutional Convention, April 28 to May 1, 2011
Earlier this year, we saw attacks on labour rights and labour laws begin in Wisconsin after the election of a Republican governor and state legislature. Not content with seeking cuts to pay, benefits and working conditions, these Tea Party Republicans sought to eliminate the right of unionized public-sector workers to engage in collective bargaining in all but very limited areas. The conflict soon spread to other states including, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Tennessee and New Jersey.
AFL occupational health and safety policy paper presented to AFL 47th Constitutional Convention, April 28th to May 1, 2011
Negative coverage of Alberta's occupational health and safety (OH&S) laws and practices percolated in the news throughout 2010. This paper will propose legislative and policy changes that will function as a starting point in addressing Alberta’s poor record in making sure all workers are safe and healthy. The paper will propose several ways in which the labour movement can keep occupational health and safety on the public agenda through 2011 and beyond.
Rights of working children violated, Alberta labour group contends: Most of province's youngest job holders employed illegally, study says
The Alberta Federation of Labour claims tens of thousands of working Alberta children are having their rights violated.
Of an estimated 26,000 children aged 12 to 14 with jobs, 21 per cent were working in prohibited industries, according to a study conducted by Athabasca University. For the estimated 8,200 nine-to 12-year-olds in the workforce, 78 per cent were working illegally.
AFL president Gil McGowan said the results confirm fears of underageworker abuse dating back to 2005 when Alberta changed employment standards to allow children as young as 12 to work in restaurants. He said the issue goes unreported. "The problem with the employment standards system as it currently exists is it's a complaintdriven system," he said. "Experience tells us children simply won't lodge complaints because they don't know their rights or don't have the confidence to stand up to employers."
The study, published in the journal Just Labour, randomly surveyed 1,200 homes across the province in 2008 and 2009. Researchers interviewed 20 children, who were found to be working illegally, about their employment conditions. It found most of the children under 12 working illegally were employed delivering newspapers and performing janitorial services. Those 12-14 were primarily employed by sports teams or golf courses or as janitors.
In Alberta, adolescents between 12 and 14 are only permitted to work certain food-service jobs, delivering items such as newspapers and small items, or as retail and office clerks. They can't be asked to work longer than two hours on a school day, or eight hours on weekends and holidays, and cannot work after 9 p.m. or before 6 a.m.
Minister of Employment and Immigration Thomas Lukaszuk said his office had received no such complaints, and questioned why the AFL hadn't reported these instances of abuse against child workers after encountering them.
Edmonton Journal, Apr 22 2011
By Conal Pierse
Alberta's child labour laws are set out in the Employment Standards Code. This law makes it illegal to employ children under 12. It strictly limits when and what adolescents (age 12-14) can do.
Study finds widespread violations of standards for underage workers in Alberta: More than one in five employed adolescents work in prohibited jobs – survey
Edmonton – There are widespread violations of employment standards for working children and adolescents in Alberta, according to a study by the province’s largest labour group.
“Tens of thousands of adolescent Albertans, aged 12 to 14, are employed and 21 per cent of them work in illegal jobs,” says Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, which represents 140,000 workers. “The story for child workers, aged 9 to 11, is even worse, with 78 per cent doing work prohibited by the government.”
The study’s release comes in the wake of the Minister of Employment and Immigration saying he would soon be announcing targeted inspections of workplaces that employ young workers.
“This study shows that underage workers need more than a few targeted inspections. Alberta's complaints-driven Employment Standards system does not work for families in this province,” says McGowan. The AFL president added that Alberta's Dickensian decision to allow children as young as 12 to work in restaurants has exacerbated the problem.
“There is no incentive for employers to ensure children and adolescents are working in safe and legal situations, or that they are being paid appropriately. Violations of employment standards laws simply result in a cease-and-desist order, or an order to pay wages owed.”
The Athabasca University study involved a survey of 1,200 Alberta homes as well as follow-up interviews with parents and children/adolescents who participate in the workforce.
Key study findings include:
- In 2009, 6.3 per cent of children had jobs - 8,200 children aged nine to 11. A total of 78 per cent of the jobs done by children were clearly illegal, such as newspaper delivery, janitorial services. The remaining 22 per cent had jobs such as babysitting and yard work.
- 26,000 adolescent workers (12 to 14) were employed. More than 21 per cent worked in prohibited occupations (janitorial services, sports teams, working on a golf course). By contrast, 28.6 per cent of jobs appear to be legal types of employment (newspaper delivery, retail sales, restaurants, agriculture). The remaining 50 per cent of jobs were babysitting and yard work.
“We are calling on Employment Minister Lukaszuk to do three things. First, he should immediately reverse the decision to allow children as young as 12 to work in restaurants. Second, the minister should immediately commit to a continuing program of random proactive employment standards inspections for employers who are known to employ underage workers. Third, the minister needs to make immediate changes to Employment Standards enforcement mechanisms, and ensure prosecution of employers who break the law,” says McGowan.
Employment rate surveys were conducted under contract by the University of Alberta Population Research Laboratory in 2008 and 2009. Random sampling of 1,200 homes resulted in statistically generalizable results with an estimated sampling error of 2.8 per cent at the 95-per-cent confidence level.
Interviews were conducted with children, adolescents and parents in the spring and summer of 2009. Initial subjects were recruited through newspaper advertisement and handbills and snowball sampling was subsequently used. Interview results are not statistically generalizable but are analytically generalizable.
The peer-reviewed Athabasca University study was conducted by Dr. Bob Barnetson, Associate Professor of Labour Relations and published in the peer-reviewed academic journal Just Labour.
A copy of this study can be found at http://www.justlabour.yorku.ca/volume16/pdfs/03_barnetson_press.pdf
Contacts: Gil McGowan, President, Alberta Federation of Labour, 780.218.9888
Dr. Bob Barnetson, Associate Professor of Labour Relations, Athabasca University, 1-866-418-7198
Striking workers at the St. Albert Post Office returned to work this morning (Friday) after being ordered to end their wildcat walkout by the Canadian Industrial Relations Board (CIRB).
The Rural and Suburban Mail Carriers (RSMCs) began a wildcat strike on Tuesday to protest arbitrary cuts to their wages that were imposed by Canada Post. Word spread quickly across the country and letters of support in solidarity streamed in from citizens and trade-union organizations.
Officials with the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) will meet with Canada Post today to try to resolve any remaining issues that triggered the strike at the distribution centre in St. Albert.
Bev Ray, president of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) Local 730 in Edmonton, apologized for any inconvenience caused by this service disruption. “We hope that customers understand how important it was for these workers to take this action to protect their livelihoods and the future of their families,” she said.
About 15 RSMCs walked off the job after being told, without advance notice, that the parcel rate that determines their pay for parcels they deliver was being cut. The carriers, who use their own vehicles and pay for their own insurance to deliver the mail, get paid by an averaged rate of mail delivered, so a cut in parcel rate means a cut in pay that could come to thousands of dollars per year even though they still have to deliver the same amount of parcels.
For more information contact Bev Ray, President @ 780) 423-9000, ext. 223 or (780) 719-4555 email@example.com
Information picket lines have gone up at the Canada Post distribution centre in St. Albert after rural and suburban mail carriers walked off the job.
“Our members are furious over changes introduced without notice that could cost them thousands of dollars per year,” says Bev Ray, president of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) Local 730 in Edmonton.
The rural and suburban mail carriers at the distribution centre at 131 - 1 Hebert Road, St. Albert, were given letters by Canada Post yesterday saying that the number of parcels they delivered was being cut.
“There was no discussion with the carriers beforehand. In fact, Canada Post said the new rules came into effect April 11, even though the letters weren’t given to the carriers until April 12,” says Ray.
The carriers, who use their own vehicles and pay for their own insurance to deliver the mail, get paid per piece of mail delivered, so a cut in parcels means a cut in pay that could come to thousands of dollars per year.
“These workers have not had a pay increase for more than two years. To arbitrarily announce measures that will seriously cut their wages is an appalling and inconsiderate move by Canada Post management,” says Ray.
About 15 rural and suburban mail carriers are affected at the St. Albert centre, but CUPW is concerned that similar measures are being planned at other Canada Post facilities across the country.
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For more information contact: Bev Ray, President at 780-423-9000 or 780-719-4555
You know you're getting older when you can recall the minimum wage for Ontario in 1976 was $2.15. But the cost of living back when Disco was the music of choice at a bar on a Saturday night was considerably lower than what Albertans are paid today.
And to think this province's workers continue to endure unnecessary hardship and poverty thanks to a two-year delay in increasing the minimum wage by the Alberta government.
Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan notes this province's minimum wage has been stuck at $8.80 per hour since April 2009. Meanwhile, your grocery costs and the cost to fill a gas tank have gone up considerly more than wages.
What's unacceptable, says McGowan, is the government more than a year ago needlessly cancelling a scheduled increase to the minimum-wage level.
Last fall, the Alberta legislature standing committee on the economy recommended an immediate increase to $9.05 per hour. The Minister of Employment and Immigration has ignored that recommendation.
"This is inexcusable," says McGowan.
Yes it is, but will the province adopt the $9.05 minimum-wage level and restore annual increases to the minimum wage, based on the average weekly earnings index?
McGowan would like to see the government make a one-time bump to the minimum wage to $12.20 as the province's economy stabilizes, so low-income earners can make a living wage. Makes sense to have full-time workers in this province being able to earn a wage that allows them to stay out of poverty. The current minimum wage does not do that.
There must also be a system in place that guarantees regular increases to prevent the minimum level from being eroded by inflation. The current minimum wage leaves a full-time worker at an income of $4,000 per year below the low-income cutoff, otherwise known as the poverty line.
Alberta can afford to do better when you compare the minimum wages from the rest of Canada, with BC the lowest at $8 — in Australia it's $20 — Newfoundland $10, Nunavut $11, Quebec $9.50, Ontario $10.25, Saskatchewan $9.25 or Nova Scotia $9.65.
Hanna Herald, Mar 25 2011
March 2011: Wisconsin protests; forklift safety; Alberta govt failing to collect billions; equality still a dream in Alberta; IAMAW 99 fight against CLAC
- From Wisconsin to Egypt, from Mexico to Canada, the rights of workers are under attack. The right of public-sector unionized workers to bargain collectively has been taken away in Wisconsin and similar moves are planned in other states south of the border. Meanwhile, the billionaire Koch brothers, who have funded this anti-union, anti middle-class campaign, have been revealed to have significant business interests in Alberta. They may be giving money to right-wing parties here! For more information ... and AFL video ... For the AFL Workers' Rights page ... To stay informed, follow us on Twitter and connect with us on Facebook.
- It's been a century since International Women's Day was launched, but Alberta women still earn, on average, only 72 cents for every dollar a man earns. Alberta is the only jurisdiction in Canada that does not give women and official voice to bring focus to this important issue and help to end the unfairness. The AFL is working to change this by aggressively lobbying MLAs. For more information ... and see also ...
AFL - making workplaces safer
- Campaigns by the AFL on workplace safety have resulted in positive moves by the Alberta government, which announced it would be hiring more inspectors and that it would initiate a forklift-safety blitz. However, the government's actions fell far short of what is needed to keep Alberta workers safe, so the AFL pressure continues. For more information ... and for recent release on forklift safety ...
Government pleads poverty while failing to collect billions
- The Alberta government released a budget inspired by the Wildrose Alliance, one that continued the starvation diet for Alberta's valued public services and included no plan to shore up the province's flagging revenues. Meanwhile, a coalition of unions called on the Auditor General to investigate why the government was failing to collect billions of dollars every year, by not meeting its own targets for revenue from oil and gas operations. For more information ... and for the release on the Auditor General's report ...
- Join the fight against CLAC! - IAM Local Lodge 99 is locked in a runoff battle with CLAC to represent hundreds of workers at OEM Remanufacturing in Edmonton, an engine and powertrain component remanufacturing company, serving the railway, natural gas and diesel sectors. IAM has been fighting for nearly seven years to represent these workers, but victory is in sight. The Alberta Labour Relations Board has ruled that the OEM workers have the right to choose their own union, and IAM has a short time to campaign for votes. But they need your help. For details ... Also go to www.oem99.ca
- March 22 - World Water Day
- March 26 - Friends of Medicare health-care rally at the Legislature (www. friendsofmedicare.org)
- March 31 - CUPE Alberta convention, Grande Prairie
- March 31 - Public Interest Alberta Annual Advocacy Conference
- April 2 - 27th Annual Labour Appreciation Night
- April 28-May 1 - AFL Convention
Did you know ...
- That some CLAC contracts say no union activity is allowed at the workplace during working hours "except that which is necessary for the processing of grievances and enforcement" of the collective agreement.
- That some CLAC contracts allow for only four hours' notice of layoffs, or say that no notice is required for layoffs due to equipment failure, material shortage or "other reasons."
- That some CLAC contracts stipulate that, in the event of it and the employer failing to resolve a matter of contention, "it agrees that the decisive word resides with management."
- That some CLAC contracts "will not permit or encourage any cessation of work, strike, slowdown or otherwise restrict or interfere with the employer's operation." For more information ... and go to www.oem99.ca