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Low-Wage Businesses Need to Calm Down and Stop FearmongeringRead more
November 2014: Parkland Conference: People vs. Profiteers; Energy East wrong type of petroleum infrastructure; Immigration – and TFWP – must remain a federal responsibility; did you k...
People versus Profiteers: Demanding justice and equity
The Parkland Institute’s Annual Fall Conference will explore why, at a time of remarkable wealth production, the money seems to be skewing in very particular directions and away from many groups (full-time, part-time, casual workers; women and minorities; the abjectly poor and disabled outside altogether of labour markets, etc.) and towards a small minority; and what can and should be done about it.
WHEN: November 21 – 23, 2014
WHERE: University of Alberta
Centennial Centre for Interdisciplinary Science (CCIS)
Energy East the wrong type of petroleum infrastructure
The recent application by TransCanada Pipelines to build a pipeline from Alberta’s oil sands to the Maritimes is another example of infrastructure projects that will impoverish Canada.
By allowing oil companies to ship low-value product, it will undermine the economic viability of upgrading here in Canada and potentially put Canadians out of work.
“The Energy East pipeline won’t bring Alberta oil to eastern refineries – instead it will channel that oil right past Canadian refineries on the way to foreign markets,” AFL president Gil McGowan said. “The closest that Energy East will get to a Canadian refinery is the Irving Refinery in New Brunswick, but even there, oil transported on the pipeline will not go to the refinery itself; instead it will be delivered to a new oil export terminal.”
Through research and advocacy, the Alberta Federation of Labour is engaged in a campaign to encourage the public, media and government to look more closely at the claims being made by proponents of the pipeline, including the current Premiers of Alberta and New Brunswick.
“Despite all the rhetoric and the spin, it’s clear that Energy East is not a ‘nation building’ project. Instead, it is yet another in a long line of projects aimed to perpetuating the ‘rip-it-and-ship-it’ approach that has characterized Canada’s resource sector for too long,” McGowan said.
Immigration – and TFWP – must remain a federal responsibility
Thousands of companies misusing the Temporary Foreign Worker program, uncovered by the Alberta Federation of Labour, prove that the program should remain a federal responsibility.
Documents obtained under freedom of information requests show that in 2013 there were more than 2,000 businesses nationwide whose workforces were more than 30 per cent TFWs – the majority of which were in Alberta. In the same year, more than 1,000 businesses had workforces that were more than 50 per cent TFWs. Again, the majority of these were in Alberta.
“If people are coming to Canada to work here, they should have the right to stay here. And that means immigration, not a ‘temporary’ status,” AFL president Gil McGowan said. “If someone is coming to Canada to work, whatever part of the country they move to first, they should have the right to move to other parts of the country if they so choose. That won’t happen if provincial governments are setting up their own separate ‘temporary’ programs.”
The list also raises serious concerns about the role being played by foreign state-owned corporations in the oil sands. More than half of the workers employed in Alberta by companies like Sinopec (a state-owned oil corporation from China) and Samjin (a subsidiary of Korea’s national oil company) are TFWs.
“The Government of Alberta has – pressured by business groups – floated the idea of taking over management of the TFW program from Ottawa. If that ever took place, it would be a disaster for Canadians and Immigrants alike,” McGowan said.
Did you know ...
- Over the past 40 years, the average Canadian on minimum wage has only seen their hourly pay increase by one penny.
- 86 per cent of Canadian families will see no benefit at all from income-splitting.
- Only 19 per cent of Alberta children 0-5 have access to a regulated child care space.
- Alberta is 2nd-last among Canadian provinces for number of regulated spaces per child. Only Saskatchewan has fewer regulated spaces per child.
• November 14-16: AFL Affiliate Political Campaign School
• December 6: Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women
• December 10: PIA Open House
Uncovered documents prove employers using TFW program as a first choice rather than offering a decent wage to Canadians
Edmonton – Canadian wages are being undermined by employers who use the Temporary Foreign Worker (TFW) program to avoid paying anything more than minimum wage.
A list obtained by the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) shows that 243 employers in Alberta are accessing the Temporary Foreign Worker program rather than paying employees more than the province’s sub-poverty $9.75 minimum wage – the lowest general minimum wage in the country.
“If employers were really using the TFW program as a last resort, rather than a first choice, they wouldn’t be paying these workers the minimum wage,” Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan said. “They can’t say they’ve actually tried to hire Canadians if they’re not offering more than minimum wage.”
Of the 243 employers, the majority (58 per cent) are in the food service industry. The list includes Boston Pizza locations, Ricky’s All-Day Grills and a variety of sushi restaurants and pubs. The full list can be downloaded HERE. Most of these approved Labour Market Opinions (LMOs) will permit the employer to hire multiple Temporary Foreign Workers.
“This list shows that the TFW program is being used to suppress wages and displace Canadian workers. Anyone claiming that there’s a labour shortage is either deliberately lying, or deeply misinformed,” McGowan said. “If there’s a labour shortage, wages are supposed to be going up to attract workers to fill the vacancies.”
Under the Temporary Foreign Worker program, employers applying to bring in workers must commit to paying the prevailing wages for the type of worker they are hiring. By paying the TFWs minimum wage, these employers are admitting that paying bottom dollar is their standard practice.
“It’s an irony that the Harper Government claims to be a big defender of the free market, but it’s clear that they’re using the TFW program to undermine the Canadian labour market,” McGowan said. “The Federal Conservatives are deliberately using their power to help service-sector employers keep wages low when economic conditions suggest they should be going up.”
The documents released by the AFL also help explain why more and more teenagers and recently arrived landed immigrants are having a hard time getting entry-level jobs. According to Statistics Canada, the unemployment rate for youths aged 15-24 in Alberta was more than 11 per cent in May.
“For young people, low-wage jobs in the service sector have traditionally been the entry point into the labour market,” McGowan said. “But now those bottom rungs on the ladder are increasingly being filled with exploitable TFWs.”
As of September 1, the minimum wage will be increased to $9.95, but will remain the lowest general minimum wage in Canada. It will remain a wage that is well below the poverty line. Working 35 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, someone earning Alberta’s new minimum wage of $9.95 an hour will earn $18,109 a year before taxes. According to Statistics Canada, the Low-Income Cut-Off (LICO) for a single wage earner with no dependents is $23,298.
“The people campaigning against increases to the minimum wage argue that it’s a starting point, and that most people don’t stay on it. But this list of TFW employers shows that to be a lie,” McGowan said. “Because of the temporary nature of this program, these workers will likely never get a raise.”
The AFL has called for the government to institute a minimum wage that would allow those working full-time to earn a minimum of $23,298 – That would work out to $14.05 without benefits, or $12.08 with benefits.
“Someone working full-time at one of these jobs is below the poverty line. These employers are importing workers so they can be poor here,” McGowan said. “They’re importing poverty.”
AFL Backgrounder: Temporary Foreign Workers and Minimum Wage-30-
Olav Rokne, Communications Director, Alberta Federation of Labour at 780.289.6528 (cell) or via e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Edmonton – The Redford government is raising the minimum wage next week, but Alberta’s lowest-income earners will still be the worst-paid in Canada.
As of September 1, the provincial general minimum wage will increase from $9.75 to $9.95. The minimum wage for liquor servers will remain the same at $9.05. Alberta’s minimum wage increases automatically each year under a formula that links the minimum wage to the cost of living.
“A terrible wage that keeps up with inflation will remain a terrible wage,” Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan said. “How can it be that the richest province is the stingiest? Alberta has a booming economy, a high cost of living, but even with this increase, we have the lowest minimum wage in the country?”
If a minimum wage worker puts in 35 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, they’ll earn $18,109 a year before taxes. That’s significantly less than the Low-Income Cut-Off (LICO), the official poverty line that Statistics Canada defines as $23,298. A rate of $14.05 without benefits, or $12.08 with benefits, would be required for someone working full-time at minimum wage to get beyond that poverty line.
“If someone is working full-time, they should not be below the poverty line,” McGowan said. “In Alberta, we have a sub-poverty wage. It’s a wage that too often will mean choosing between rent and food.”
Workers in B.C., Manitoba and Ontario can all expect a minimum of $10.25 an hour. Nova Scotia is a little bit better at $10.30 an hour. New Brunswick, Newfoundland and N.W.T. all pay $10.00 an hour for minimum wage. In Quebec, it’s $10.15. And in Nunavut, it’s $11.00 an hour.
“The Government’s plan to make annual inflation-based increases to the minimum wage has a lot of merit. The problem is that they started doing so only after many years in which they’d allowed inflation to greatly outpace the minimum wage,” McGowan said. “So when they started with the annual increases, the minimum wage was way, way, way too low for Alberta’s economy.”
In today’s dollars, Alberta’s minimum wages were significantly higher in the late 1970s than they are now. Accounting for inflation, the minimum wage of $3.00 in 1977 had the equivalent buying power of more than $11 today.
“Almost 30,000 Albertans earn the provincial minimum wage. This is a pressing issue to every one of them,” McGowan said. “Almost half of these workers are over the age of 24, and nearly half work these jobs full-time. There are too many people struggling to get by on too low a minimum wage.”
According to government estimates, 1.8% of Alberta’s 1,642,400 are earning minimum wage. More than 72 per cent of Albertans who earn minimum wage are women.
AFL Backgrounder: Minimum Wage 2013-30-
Olav Rokne, Communications Director, Alberta Federation of Labour at 780.289.6528 (cell)
or via e-mail email@example.com
Province’s minimum wage again the lowest in Canada
Edmonton - Alberta has reclaimed the dubious distinction of having the worst minimum wage in the country.
On Saturday, Dec. 1, the minimum wage in Saskatchewan was increased from $9.50 to $10. This leaves Alberta as the province with the lowest-paid workers in the country. It was a title the province had relinquished for only three short months after Alberta increased its minimum wage in September from $9.40 to $9.75.
“It shows how out-of-line this province is with the rest of the country,” Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan said. “During the three months that Alberta didn’t have the lowest, we had the second-lowest minimum wage.”
Workers in British Columbia, Manitoba and Ontario can all expect a minimum of $10.25 per hour. Throughout the Maritime Provinces, workers will see $10.00 per hour on their paycheques. In Nunavut, the minimum wage is $11.00. About 26,000 Alberta workers earn the minimum wage of $9.75.
“We have the strongest economy, and the greatest demand for workers in Canada. As a province we can afford to pay workers fairly, but we aren’t.” McGowan said. “Why is it that the province that has the greatest wealth is the stingiest with some of its most disadvantaged citizens?”
Since 2011, Alberta’s minimum wage has tied to an average of changes to Alberta’s annual average weekly earnings and changes to the Consumer Price Index in Alberta. Changes to minimum wage occur September 1 of each year and are announced with three months’ notice.
“Indexing the minimum wage to inflation makes sense,” McGowan said. “But it does no good to make cost-of-living adjustments if you’re starting from a wage that is simply too low. A terrible wage that keeps up with inflation will remain a terrible wage.”
Some workers in Alberta – those who serve alcohol and may have their income supplemented by tips – are subject to an even lower minimum wage of $9.05 an hour. Some restaurants have taken advantage of this system to pay their serving staff the reduced rate even if they almost never serve alcohol, and absolutely never get tips.
“This separate minimum wage, which was introduced last year, is a loophole that some employers are exploiting,” McGowan said. “There are workers in Alberta paid almost a full dollar less per hour than any other workers in Canada. The Premier needs to address this problem.”
Gil McGowan, President, Alberta Federation of Labour at 780-218-9888 (cell)
Olav Rokne, AFL Communications Director at 780-289-6528 (cell) or via email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Swiss Chalet case shows how employers can use weak laws to rip-off workers
EDMONTON – Alberta's poorly written minimum wage laws are subject to abuse, says Nancy Furlong, Secretary Treasurer of the Alberta Federation of Labour, and Doug O'Halloran, President of the United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 401 (UFCW 401).
"Employers are taking advantage of weak two-tiered minimum wage laws to rip off the lowest-paid workers in Alberta," says Furlong. "A case before the Alberta Labour Relations Board (ALRB) shows how unscrupulous employers can classify minimum-wage earners as 'liquor servers,' even though they rarely if ever serve booze, in order to pay them the lower of the two minimum wages."
The case, brought to the ALRB by UFCW 401 on behalf of workers at the West End Swiss Chalet in Edmonton, centres around the employer's attempt to pay workers the liquor servers' minimum wage of $9.05 an hour, rather than the general minimum wage of $9.40 an hour (will increase to $9.75 on September 1), though they rarely, if ever, serve alcohol. The $9.75 minimum wage allows for the 'occasional' service of liquor, which is precisely the situation of the workers at Swiss Chalet.
"Servers at Swiss Chalet serve chicken and ribs, not martinis and scotch," says Doug O'Halloran, President of UFCW 401. "But the employer is demanding that they accept the lower wage, the one for workers who frequently serve booze. The employer is prepared to lockout these workers in order to get his way and pay them a lower minimum wage than they're entitled."
"There are nearly 26,000 Alberta workers earning minimum wage and only a small minority – like the workers at this Swiss Chalet - have the protection of a union," says O'Halloran. "If one dodgy employer has figured out a way to screw these workers out of $0.35 an hour, you can bet that there are dozens, maybe even hundreds, of other employers doing the same thing."
"There should be one wage for all minimum wage earners in Alberta, one that allows them to earn enough to stay out of poverty," says Furlong. "An all-party committee of the Legislature in 2010 also recommended that there be one wage for all minimum-wage earners, but the government caved to the restaurant lobby and ignored that advice."
"Now the chickens have come home to roost. Employers in the restaurant industry are using the government's shoddy laws and lax enforcement to swindle the lowest-paid workers in the province."
Douglas O'Halloran, President, UFCW 401, 403-861-2000
Nancy Furlong, AFL Secretary Treasurer, 780-720-8945
Advocates of a living wage hit downtown streets Tuesday to hand out $9.40 bills to raise awareness that Alberta's minimum wage, now the lowest in the country, is not enough.
"We're just trying to raise awareness on the fact that the new minimum wage is not a living wage, it's not enough for people to get by on," said Lorinda Peel, Lethbridge community mobilizer for Public Interest Alberta.
"The bills are basically just to get the word out. What we want people to do is hand them out as tips to servers or people in the serving industry that are making minimum wage, people who hopefully would speak up and speak out against it."
She said the idea is to circulate the bills around the city so more people are aware of who the minimum wage affects.
"It's not just teenagers, there's a lot of people - 17.8 per cent of people in Lethbridge are working for less than $12 an hour, and it's a huge range of people that fit into that category. You've got single mothers, people in their 40s, 50s, teenagers, students going to university and college, it affects a lot of people," Peel said, adding the ultimate goal is to get the minimum wage increased to a more livable wage of $12 an hour.
"Right now Alberta has the lowest minimum wage across Canada, so we'd like to see a review of that. Working for less than $12 an hour with the cost of living these days is just not feasible."
Shannon Phillips, policy analyst for the Alberta Federation of Labour and chair of the Womanspace Resource Centre, said having the lowest minimum wage in Canada reinforces the "growing gap between rich and poor."
"In Alberta, we are a very wealthy place, but we are not doing well in terms of the growing in equality and the growing gap between rich and poor. We've seen this play out on an international stage, we're seeing it also playing out right here at home," she said. "The fact is that we can do better here in Alberta."
She noted those working in restaurants and bars making a minimum $9.05 an hour, and expected to cover the difference with tips, are especially hit hard.
"This differential wage assumes that everyone who is working in the service industry is making some kind of wild amount of tips, which we know from the research it's not true . . . and those kinds of jobs do not come with benefits, they don't come with even EI because EI is based on your minimum wage, it's not based on tips, they don't come with any other of the job protection that higher wage earners get."
Phillips added Alberta does not have any laws regarding tips and gratuities.
"Here we have a minimum wage that is dependent on the existence of tips, but not one law around how employers deal with tips," she pointed out. "So we know from experience, and it's perfectly legal, for employers to take tips, to take tips for a tip out to other staff, or just to take them outright, and so if you have that situation then this law is just ripe for abuse."
More information on the $9.40 bills and living wage can be found at www.facebook.com/NotaLivingWage or www.pialberta.org
Lethbridge Herald, Wed Nov 2 2011
Byline: Jamie Woodford