EDMONTON - Politicians like Ralph Klein and Jean Chretien should dust off their history books tomorrow and learn some valuable lessons from the past, says AFL president Audrey Cormack.
Tomorrow is the 70th anniversary of the famous "Persons Case" in which Canadian women were finally recognized as "persons" under law.
"Our leaders today could learn a lot from the women who fought for recognition in the Persons Case," says Cormack. "They demonstrated the kind of commitment to the public good that is sorely lacking in our leaders today."
The Persons Case was launched by five women in 1928 after the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously decided that women were not "persons" under law and, therefore, were ineligible to hold public office as Canadian Senators.
The five women - now known as the "Famous Five" - appealed the decision to the British Privy Council, which at the time was the highest court in the Commonwealth. In 1929, the Privy Council reversed the Supreme Court decision, calling the exclusion of women from public office "a relic of days more hazardous than ours."
Cormack says the Persons Case was a great victory for women and Canadian society in general, adding that the women involved - including Albertans Henrietta Muir Edwards, Mary Parlby, Emily Murphy and Louise McKinney - were role models that politicians today should pattern themselves on.
"They started out fighting for women's rights and that always remained their focus," says Cormack. "They also committed themselves to the struggle for public health care, quality education, workplace safety and decent wages. The same things that we continue to fight for today."
Persons Day comes on the heels of the World March of Women 2000 in which women from over 154 countries marched, rallied and lobbied around the issues of violence against women and the eradication of poverty. "To see 50,000 women on Parliament Hill on a Sunday afternoon cannot be ignored. The determination and resilience of the "Famous Five" is alive and well thirty years after the monumental case. It's time the federal and provincial leaders stop speaking in circles when it comes to issues affecting women," says Cormack.
"Through their efforts Canada became a better, more caring place. In our current era of privatization and bottom-line politics, we need people like McKinney, Murphy and the others more than ever. I urge all of our leaders to consider the example set by the Persons Case. I urge them to embrace the progressive spirit and the political will of the 'Famous Five'," says Cormack.
For more information call:
Audrey M. Cormack, President @ 499-6530 (cell) or 428-9367 (hm)
Labour members of the Task Force that recommended new provisions for working alone regulations released a "minority report" today stating the provisions "fall short" in protecting workers. The "Minority Report" comes in response to the official implementation of new working alone regulations.
"The Alberta government missed an opportunity today," says Audrey Cormack, AFL President. "The new regulations fall far short of what is needed to really protect workers who have to work alone."
The Minority Report comes from a group of 6 Labour representatives on the General Safety Regulation Task Force, which is the body charged with recommending new regulations for working alone. The Task Force recommendations included a mandatory assessment of the hazards and some form of effective communication system.
"The labour representatives attempted to include stronger provisions, such as permitting a worker to refuse working alone that may put their safety at substantial risk, but were shot down by the employer side of the Task Force," says Jason Foster, who represented the AFL on the Task Force.
"Banning working alone was never in the Minister's plan," says Foster. Foster indicates the Minister communicated to a number of parties that a ban was never in the works. This message affected the Task Force's deliberations.
The labour representatives decided to support the six sections as a first step measure. "It was the best compromise possible given the strong opposition from employers and the government," says Foster. "We want the public to know that the provisions do not go far enough."
The Minority Report calls for additional steps to be taken, including:
- Making the elimination of working alone (scheduling more than one worker) the first consideration before other hazard controls
- The Minister be given the discretion to designate certain jobs "high hazard" and ban working alone in those jobs
- Permitting workers to refuse to work alone if it places their safety at "substantial risk"
- Define "effective communication system" as having both an emergency call for the employee and a regular check-in by someone who can get help
"Preventing working alone should be the first level of defence," says Cormack. "With this government, it barely makes the radar screen."
The labour representatives will continue to sit on the Task Force and try to make improvements to the health and safety regulations where they can.
"What the results of the working alone process show is that the public needs to put greater pressure on the government to make them give higher priority to worker health and safety."
For more information contact:
Audrey M. Cormack, President @ 780 499-6530 (cell) 428-9367 (home)
Jason Foster, AFL @ 780-1137 (wk)
Note: Copies of the Minority Report are available from the AFL at 483-3021.
The elected officers of the Alberta Federation of Labour today endorsed Strathcona MLA Raj Pannu's bid for the leadership of the Alberta New Democrats. President Audrey Cormack and Secretary Treasurer Les Steel praised Pannu's leadership and look forward to working with him in the next election.
"Raj Pannu has been an articulate and consistent voice of working people in the Alberta legislature," says Cormack. "Albertans are looking for a politician with integrity and principles. They need look no further than Raj."
Secretary-Treasurer Les Steel feels that Raj will bring his hard-work and determination to the job as leader. "He stood alone in the legislature during the Bill 11 debate and took on the government. He was effective and strong during that debate. I am confident he will bring the same work ethic to all issues important to Albertans."
Cormack and Steel will be presenting the issue of the NDP leadership to the AFL's governing body at its meeting next month. "We suspect our Executive Council will share our support for Raj and the New Democrats," says Cormack.
Steel and Cormack point out that in the next election, Albertans will be looking for an alternative to the arrogant Conservative government. "Raj has the skill to get the New Democrat message out," observes Steel.
"We are confident and energized about the New Democrats' election hopes under Raj Pannu's leadership. Bring on the election!" Cormack concludes.
For further information contact:
Audrey Cormack, President @ 483-3021 wk/428-9367 hm/499-6530 cell
Les Steel, Secretary Treasurer @ 483-3021 wk/499-4135 cell
The $1 billion tax cut for corporations announced yesterday by the Alberta government exposes the government's real priority is giving money back to corporate friends and not investing in essential programs for Alberta families, says the Alberta Federation of Labour today. The AFL also criticizes the cut as shortsighted and not viable over the long term.
"Although some businesses and business organizations have been clamoring for this kind of tax break for years, I believe that they are being very short-sighted," said Cormack. "The corporate sector benefits as much or more than the rest of us from public education, Medicare and all the other public programs and services that create our social and economic infrastructure. Their failure to provide their fair share of tax support will mean either tax increases for the rest of us or a further decline in public services."
"$1 billion would go a long way to ensure we finally fix the persistent problems plaguing our health and education systems due to years of cutbacks," adds Cormack. "It would be money better used put into services for families."
Cormack also expresses concern that the growing list of tax cuts being tossed around by the Conservatives is not sustainable over the long term. Tax cuts announced in 2000 amount to almost $2.5 billion. "What will happen when the boom goes bust?" asks Cormack.
Cormack suspects that when the price of oil drops, as it will eventually do, the Tories' corporate friends won't be interested in tax increases. "That will mean more cuts to people services down the road."
Cormack states that large corporations, that are making record profits, should be required to pay more than 8% tax. "Hard working average families will be required to pay 10.5%. Why should some huge corporation making millions in profits only pay 8%? It is unfair."
Cormack urges the government to scrap plans for corporate tax breaks and instead wisely invest the money in health, education and other people services. "Responding to the needs of Albertans is what they are elected to do."
"This government is going the wrong way in taxation," concluded Cormack. "At their own growth summit, restoring public services was the clear priority - not tax cuts. Now they are cutting corporate taxes and the public education component of property taxes, while doing an inadequate job of funding public programs."
For further information contact:
Audrey Cormack, President @ 483-3021 wk/428-9367 hm/499-6530 cell
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.
The Alberta Federation of Labour is set to undertake a new phase of their Worker Literacy Project. Cormack, President of the AFL resolves that "we will continue training workplace literacy trainers so that we can shift our focus to the actual delivery of literacy programs in the workplace and on job sites."
"The link between literacy and the labour movement has never been stronger," says Cormack, in marking September 8th as International Literacy Day. "When 45% of all new jobs created in this decade require 16 years of education, there is a definite need for literacy programs in the workplace. Literacy IS a labour issue."
According to the International Adult Literacy Survey conducted by Statistics Canada and OECD and released in June 2000, literacy is linked to economic success. Findings showed that literacy levels determine what kinds of jobs people find, the salaries they make and their ability to upgrade their skills.
"The skills workers need to compete in an ever-changing labour market include communication and leadership skills. It is not good enough to just promote literacy, we need to provide workers with ongoing training in reading and writing, paired with a focus on technology," says Cormack.
In 1991, the AFL began work on a Worker Literacy Project. The multi-phase project, made possible through funding from the National Literacy Secretariat, involved a survey of affiliated members, whose findings and recommendations were compiled in a report called the "Worker Literacy Initiative Project."
President Cormack notes that "when we first embarked on this project in 1991, of the average 14 hours of training Canadian companies provided for their employees, only 2% was literacy training. Our government was spending only 0.5% of our GDP on employment and training programs. Something needed to be done to combat the problem of illiteracy in the workplace."
The second phase of the project, started in 1998, focused on literacy awareness and education within the labour movement. This included training labour educators in supportive literacy strategies, and developing literacy modules to be presented at yearly labour schools.
"It has been almost 10 years since we first started the Worker Literacy Project. We have the research, we have developed the workshops, and literacy trainers have been trained. It's time to move into action and get out to the people it impacts - the workers," says Cormack.
"When we provide workers with the literacy training they need to be effective in their jobs, we have also provided them with the skills, knowledge and experience they will need to become empowered as individuals and within their communities," says Cormack. "In the end, everyone benefits."
For more information contact:
Audrey M. Cormack, President at cell (780) 499-6530
Unions and workers across Alberta should brace themselves for a fight because next year will probably be Ralph Klein's "year of retribution" against organized labour, says Audrey Cormack, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
In her annual Labour Day message, Cormack predicted that the Klein government will soon introduce changes to Alberta's labour laws that will make it even more difficult for workers to join unions and for unions to effectively represent their members.
"We already have the most regressive labour laws in the country - laws that stack the deck in favour of employers at the expense of workers," says Cormack. "But that hasn't stopped certain people within government and the business community from lobbying for even more backward laws. They won't be satisfied until the collective bargaining process is completely undermined."
Cormack says the Klein government will package its attack on unions as an effort to "protect the rights of individual workers." This is the approach currently being taken in Ontario, where the Harris government is circulating a policy document calling for the gutting of that province's labour law.
Under the Harris government proposal, unions would have to get "authorization in writing" from each employee before they could collect dues. Approval from individual members would also have to be obtained before unions could use union dues for "political or social causes," such as contributions to political parties or pro-Medicare lobby campaigns.
"This kind of labour law is a dream come true for anti-union employers and conservative politicians," says Cormack. "Laws like these are deliberately designed to weaken unions by starving them of funds. They are also designed to neutralize unions as effective political critics and advocates for their members."
Cormack says she has received information from sources within government suggesting that changes to the Labour Code and the Public Service Employee Relations Act ( PSERA) could be introduced as early as this fall - but more likely after the next election, which is expected to be held in the spring of 2001. Cormack's sources also said the changes are being made, in part, to "get even" with the labour movement.
"This is payback time for Premier Klein," says Cormack. "He wants to get even for the role that unions played in opposing Bill 11 and he wants to punish health care unions for having the audacity to go on strike in support of their very legitimate wage and staffing concerns."
The possibility of even harsher labour laws in Alberta comes as no real surprise, says Cormack.
After all, she points out that this is the same government that recently allowed Labatts and Molson to crush its distribution workers' union by contracting their work to an outside firm; it's the same government that rarely fines companies for health and safety breaches, even when those breaches lead to worker fatalities; it's the same government that regularly turns a blind eye when anti-union employers like Conrad Black use tactics that wouldn't be allowed in other provinces; and it's the same government that for years has supported a union certification process that is rigged in favour of employers.
Cormack predicts that some Albertans will shrug off an attack on organized labour by arguing that unions are not necessary or that they have "out-lived their usefulness." But nothing could be further from the truth, she says.
"Given all the challenges that confront working people at the beginning of the 21th century, it's clear that unions have not lost their relevance or importance," says Cormack. "Far from it. Just look at what's been happening in the world economy and the local economy over the past 20 years. Declining real wages. On-going job insecurity. Deep cuts to public services. Erosion of employment standards and health and safety protections. Corporations moving jobs to low-wage countries in the Third world. The polarization between people who work too many hours and those who don't have enough work. In this kind of environment, working people clearly still need the kind of protection that unions provide - maybe now more than ever."
The past year has provided numerous examples of the good unions can do for workers, says Cormack. It has also provided examples showing how the province's existing labour laws stack the deck against workers.
"This year Alberta hospital workers won a long-overdue wage increase and workers at the pulp mill in Edson got an agreement that gave them improved job security. In both cases, the workers involved would not have won fair agreements without the help and leadership of their unions," says Cormack.
"On the other end of the spectrum, the past year also saw strikes that ended badly largely because of the inherent unfairness of Alberta's labour law. Conrad Black took advantage of Alberta's Labour Code to basically starve strikers at the Calgary into submission. And Labatts and Molson used the law to simply close down its unionized warehouse and move operations to a non-union contractor. These kinds of tactics would be illegal in most other provinces."
Cormack says one of the most frustrating aspects of the government's expected labour law "reform" is that it will almost certainly do nothing to address the real labour-relations problems that currently in Alberta - like the section of the existing labour code that allows hostile employers to simply refuse to bargain with newly certified and duly elected bargaining units.
"In a lot of ways, this is about arrogance," says Cormack. "The Tories are so used to being in charge and always being listened to that they can't stand anyone or any group standing up to them. We stood up to them during the Bill 11 fight. Now they want all of us in the labour movement to pay. But I guarantee that unions won't take this sitting down. We will fight to protect the collective bargaining process and we will fight to protect the interests of working people."
If the government proceeds with efforts to weaken Alberta's labour law, Cormack says they will meet with stiff resistance from the labour movement. At the same time, she says the labour movement will continue to aggressively promote and defend the interests of working people.
"If the government thinks that attacks on the labour laws will distract unions or turn us into lap dogs, then they have got another thing coming," says Cormack. "We will continue to support our members when they're at the bargaining table or on the picket line. We will continue to stand up to employers who ignore the important contributions of their workers. And we will continue to act as vocal critics of government policies that threaten working people and the communities they live in."
For more information call:
Audrey M. Cormack, President @ 483-3021 (wk) 499-6530 (cell) 428-9367 (hm)
Activists concerned about sweatshop labour will stage rallies outside two popular sporting goods shops in Edmonton and Calgary over the weekend.
Both rallies will be held on Saturday, August 26 starting at 11 a.m. The Edmonton rally will be held outside Sportchek at Mayfair Common (Mayfield Rd. and Stony Plain Road). The Calgary rally will be held outside Forzani's, located at 2415-4th Street S.W.
At both rallies, leaflets will be distributed to shoppers explaining the sweatshop conditions under which many sporting good are manufactured. Customers will also be urged to shop ethically.
The Alberta Federation of Labour is asking why Human Resources Minister Clint Dunford is holding back approval of the new working alone regulation and handbook, when it has been complete for over a month. The working alone regulation was promised after the murder of Tara MacDonald in a Calgary Subway store earlier this year.
"Four months ago, the Minister was promising fast action to the serious problem of working alone," says AFL Secretary-Treasurer Les Steel. "Today he seems content to let it languish in bureaucratic limbo. We know the minister has been getting a lot of bad publicity lately because of his reaction to the death of a 14-year-old construction worker a couple weeks ago. But that's no reason to stop dealing with other important work safety issues. And it's no reason to go back on a promise."
In April the Minister appointed a committee to prepare a handbook on the hazards of working alone. He also instructed a second committee too fast-track the drafting of new regulations governing working alone. Both committees were to have completed their work by June. In a press release dated April 3, the Minister promised the handbook, which builds on the regulation, would "be made available to workplace stakeholders by June 30, 2000."
"The regulation is now almost a month overdue," says Steel. "Mr. Dunford has a responsibility to workers who have to work alone to get the regulation implemented." Currently in Alberta, there are no regulations governing the practice of working alone.
Steel predicts the release of the regulation will spark more controversy for Dunford. As reported by various media outlets, the proposed regulation will not place a ban on working alone. Steel suggests many Albertans will see the regulation as not doing enough to protect workers.
"July has been a hot month for Dunford," says Steel. "But he is compounding his problems by holding back protection for workers who work alone. He needs to lay aside his media concerns and put the interests of workers up front." Steel called on Dunford to release the regulation immediately, so that workers know what their protections are.
For more information call:
Les Steel, AFL Secretary Treasurer @ 483-3021(work) or 499-4135 (cell)
EDMONTON - Alarm bells should be ringing in the provincial labour department now that it has been revealed that there may have been no guardrails on the roof where a 14-year-old boy was working before falling to his death last week.
According to a newspaper report published today, Edmonton police are investigating the possibility the fifth-floor barricade that 14-year-old Shane Stecyk supposed fell over was actually erected after the accident.
"It looks like we had a deadly combination of factors contributing to the death of this young boy," says Les Steel, Secretary Treasurer of the Alberta Federation of Labour. "First, we had a roof that was wet and slippery. Second, we had a young worker with no experience; who had not been given any kind of protective harness; and who had not received any safety training. Third, it looks like there was no guardrail as required by law. It was a deadly accident waiting to happen."
Steel says the provincial government has to take a significant share of the blame for the accident because it doesn't do nearly enough to ensure that companies - especially in dangerous industries such as construction - comply with existing health and safety rules.
"It's not enough to have rules saying things like 'guardrails must be erected' or that "'oung workers need special permits'," says Steel. "These rules are meaningless unless they are enforced and violators are punished. That's just not happening in Alberta today. As a result, the lives of working Albertans - young and old - are being put at risk."
In a letter sent to Human Resources Minister Clint Dunford yesterday, Steel pointed out that provincial spending on occupational health and safety programs has plummeted from $10.61 per worker per year in 1993 to $4.61 per worker in 2000. As a result, the province now has only 58 health and safety inspectors - down from 69 in 1993 - to look after 1.6 million workers and nearly 70,000 work sites.
To make matters worse, Steel says companies are rarely prosecuted for breaking health and safety rules - and even when they are, the fines are too small to act as an effective deterrent. For example, only one company was prosecuted in 1999 - out of the nearly 1,000 companies that were cited for violations.
"It's like trying to mop up an ocean with a sponge," says Steel. "Because of their overwhelming case loads, the inspectors spend almost all of their time investigating fatalities, leaving them with no time to investigate less serious incidents or to do preventative spot checks of problem employers."
Steel says that the government and the public are fooling themselves if they think that Shane Stecyk's is an isolated case.
"It's just the tip of the iceberg," he says. "How many other construction sites don't have proper safety railings? How many other young teens are working illegally on construction sites? Probably a lot - but we don't know because we don't do enough inspections. And despite all the attention this case has received, unscrupulous employers will probably continue to cut corners because they know that, here in Alberta, they can get away with it."
One of the most frustrating aspects of this whole situation, says Steel, is that the government knows which employers and which industries are most dangerous - they've compiled a list based on injury statistics from the WCB. Many of these employers have been targeted for preventative spot inspections under the so-called "Planned Inspection Program" - but the inspectors almost never get around to actually doing the inspections because of lack of resources.
"The bottom line is that we believe the death of this young worker - and many of the other workers who die on Alberta worksites each year - is directly related to the government's lax enforcement of health and safety rules," says Steel. "If nothing else, this case proves what we in the labour movement have been saying for years: namely that there is a desperate need for more frequent and more aggressive health and safety inspections in this province."
For more information call:
Les Steel, Secretary Treasurer @ 483-3021 (wk) / 499-4135 (cell)
Gil McGowan, Director of Communications @ 483-3021 (wk)