Gil McGowan, President of the Alberta Federation of Labour, June 13, 2006
Sometimes life proceeds as expected - sometimes you get thrown a curve ball
Getting an invitation to speak at this conference was a curve ball
It would be an understatement to say it's unusual for management here in Alberta to come to labour for advice - especially management in the resource sector.
But the truth is there are actually a lot of things we can agree on. For example, we all want the Alberta economy to remain strong. And we all want individual Albertans to benefit from that prosperity.
And despite the stereotypes about unions - that we're always spoiling for a fight and never want to cooperate - the truth is we want to be constructive.
In that spirit of constructive engagement, I'd like to do three things this afternoon:
First, I'd like to begin by talking about the nature of the challenge that we face in the Alberta labour market - for the obvious reason that if you don't have a clear understanding of the problem, you'll have a hard time coming up with solutions.
Second, I'd like to offer suggestions about what, from a union perspective, employers should be doing - and what they shouldn't be doing - if they want to attract and retain employees.
Third, I'd like to step back and look at the big picture. In particular, I'd like to address the question: what can and should government and business, broadly defined, be doing to help makes the challenges presented by Alberta's tight labour market more manageable?
I'm big on metaphors and analogies - so I'll describe my mission is nautical terms: what I'd like to do today is talk about just how choppy the waves are in Alberta's labour market; what individual firms can and should be doing to avoid getting swamped; and what we can do collectively to calm the waters and keep all of our boats afloat&
So just how high are the seas?
Looking at the Alberta economy from a distance, it looks like an almost entirely unblemished good news story.
There is unprecedented demand for our most important commodities: oil and gas. And all signs suggest that demand will remain strong.
In the past, oil producers like Alberta were almost entirely dependent on the U.S. economy. If demand fell there, world price would fall. But this time around things are different - U.S. is not the only game in town. China, and to a lesser extent India, have emerged as major forces. So even if the U.S. economy slows oil prices may dip, but probably won't collapse.
We're also bumping up against the reality of declining world-wide petroleum stocks in a way that was the case in the 70s or 80s.
The result for Alberta has been staggering amounts of money being invested in our economy - particularly in oilsands development. Depending who you talk to, more than $100 billion in energy projects are on the books.
At the same time, after years of neglect, the government is finally spending substantial amounts of money on public infrastructure. This spending is welcome, and many would argue long overdue. But in an important way, they're competing with the private sector for resources.
All of this has led to record employment levels, strong job growth, strong consumer demand. And after 15 years of virtually zero growth in average real wage, over last three years we've been seeing wage increases that have been keeping ahead of inflation.
Some critics in the business community have complained about the increase in average wages. But, from our perspective, the real test of an economy is if it's working for ordinary people. So we strongly believe that rising incomes are something to be celebrated, not feared.
But, despite first impressions, the Alberta economy in not all good news - there are downsides.
First, the truth is that prosperity in Alberta is not universally shared. Energy is king, but it is not everything. Prices have been going up for oil and gas, but not for many of the other things we produce. Livestock, agricultural products, forestry products & the Alberta Advantage has not included rising demand or prices for these things.
Just last week, Stats Can released a report showing that farm incomes in Alberta have fallen by 50 per cent - 50 per cent in one year. The price for cattle about the same as it was during the BSE crisis. And the price for wheat, barley and oil seed, lowest in decades
In forestry, I've been talking to our members in the Hinton pulp mill and our guys who work in saw mills. Their employers aren't talking about growth. In many cases they're talking about lay-offs.
Wage increases are also not universally shared. The AFL represents 31 different unions in all sectors. One of our big private sector affiliates is UFCW, which represents thousands of retail workers. Their employers - companies like Safeway and Superstore - are not giving out double-digit wage increases.
And just this morning, I was on the phone with a group of school board workers in the Pincher creek area who are looking at a wage offer of 9 per cent - over five years.
It sounds like what workers came to expect during the last recession - but it's still the reality for many.
So, like the broader economy, the Alberta labour market, is a complex beast. The headline in today's Calgary Herald screams about a labour shortage & a shortfall for the city of 30,000 workers over the next ten years. It sounds ominous. But the truth is much more nuanced.
The construction labour market has been the subject of greatest attention lately. And there is no doubt that the industry is red hot & thanks mostly to oil sands development. But some important points need to be made about construction.
For example, construction is by its very nature cyclical. 60,000 trades people may be needed this year, but maybe only 10,000 the next year. That's the way construction works.
We're currently at or near the top of the cycle. But even here at the peak, within the construction labour market, we need to acknowledge that the situation is fluid.
The best you can say is that some trades are in shortage at some times & it depends on which trade and which time.
So right now for example, several major projects have recently been completed & the biggest example being the UE-1 expansion at Syncrude. The result is that hundreds of trades people who have been tied up in some cases for two or three years are now available for work.
The Alberta Building Trades Council just completed a survey of hiring halls around the province and what they found was that there are literally thousands of unionized trades people available for work.
So for those of us in the labour movement, something just doesn't compute. On one had we have employers screaming labour shortage and calling for desperate measures like radical increases in the use of temporary foreign workers. And on the other hand, we have thousands of unionized tradespeople people who are ready, willing and able to work - but who are still sitting on the sidelines.
That's why we have a hard time agreeing that there's a labour shortage in contraction - when the pool of unionized tradesmen is not being fully utilized.
Having said all that, there is no doubt that in many sectors and in many occupations we have a tight labour market.
As I said, this tight labour market is the natural result of a strong economy & and it's good for workers. But we recognize it does create challenges for some employers.
The challenge for employers - people like everyone in this room - is compounded by what I would describe as Alberta's labour market hierarchy.
There has always been a pyramid in the Alberta labour market & with the energy sector at the top.
They've always been able to pay more. But with oil at $70 barrel, the energy sector's ability to outbid other employers in other sectors has probably never been greater & and that's a challenge.
How, for example, do you compete with energy companies that are offering signing bonuses of up to $30,000; moving bonuses of $15,000 and annual retention bonuses of $25-30 thousand?
Interestingly, the challenge is no longer restricted to non-energy companies. Probably for the first time ever, energy companies are competing with each other. In fact, I don't think it's a stretch to say that the most popular past-time at Petroleum Conference around town this week will be staff poaching.
So how do you stay afloat in these stormy seas? You've been discussing this amongst yourselves for past day and a half & and I'm confident that you've identified many workable solutions. But for what it's worth, I'd like to present my list of do's and don'ts from a union perspective.
My first "do", perhaps not surprisingly, has to do with wages.
DO accept that the cost of labour has gone up & and DON"T attempt to defy the economic laws of gravity.
Not that long ago, I remember one of the buzz phrases used by employers was "cost certainty." They were always coming to the bargaining table and saying they couldn't proceed with this project or that project without guarantees that wages would stay flat.
That's was the rationale that the provincial government and Canadian Natural Resources gave when CNRL was granted special status under the labour code for the Horizon project. They said that government intervention to keep wages flat was warranted be Horizon was so important to the Alberta economy and because the company needed "certainty."
But as an acquaintance of mine, who happens to be an engineer and project manager for a big construction firm, pointed out: if you don't pay the going market rate, if you try to defy the economic laws of gravity, you loose out.
As he said, if you balk at paying the going market rate, workers vote with their feet & and you end up with what he described as the "bar stools and high schools" approach to recruiting.
This approach sets off a vicious cycle. In a tight labour market, with lower pay you get a lower quality of worker or no worker at all; you get declining performance; you get increased workplace accidents; you get delays and missed deadlines; you get angry clients, maybe lawsuits and you get lost business opportunities.
There was a time, not that long ago, when the Alberta economy and the broader Canadian economy was sluggish. In that kind of economy, employers could more easily get away with doing the minimum. They could more easily get away with layoffs and "outsourcing" & and with treating employees like Post-it-Notes, to be used and discarded.
But those days are over. Bragging about being the "low cost" provider doesn't mean being the smartest guy in the room anymore, if it ever did.
Now it means being the guy who is going to have chronic labour relations problems. It means being the guy who provides a sub-standard product. It means being the guy who's going to miss targets, disappoint investors and clients and who's going to loose out on the next contract.
The bottom line is that you need to value you employees. Part of that means viewing paying the going market rate as an inescapable cost of doing business.
Of course, paying them well is not the only way to show your people that they're valued. It's necessary, but not sufficient. That leads me to the rest of my list of "dos" & and some of these may surprise you &
For example & DO make a point of having on-site HR people &
Delegating day-to-day hr responsibilities to you foreman may sound like a great way to save a few bucks & but it'll cost you & why? & because most of these guys couldn't tell the difference between the Employment Standards Code and the DaVinci Code & because you might get a foreman who wants to be everyone's buddy on the morning shift and a foreman who's Attilla the Hun on the afternoon shift.
Employees hate that kind of inconsistency and petty unfairness. And in a tight labour market where employees have options, you can't afford to loose people because one of your manager like to play job-site Rambo.
Also DO think of the other half of your employees life & the half that they spend away from work.
This is particularly important given that so much of the work that's being done in Alberta today is in remote locations & where people are forced to be away from their families for long stretches & and where they don't have access to amenities.
The good news is that Albertans are hard workers & they don't mind putting in a hard days work in exchange for their paycheques.
But given a choice & and in the current sellers market workers have choice & employees will choose those employers that do more to make it easier for them to live a real life.
Whenever I want to understand what trades workers in particular really want out of their jobs, I sit down with my brother in law.
He's a journeyman electrician & and for the better part of the last three years he worked in Fort McMurray on Syncrude's UE-1 expansion.
He made buckets of money & more than he every imagined. But it came at a price. He has a wife and three young kids at home. For three years, almost never saw them.
So a lot of people in our family used to rib him about his huge salary. But you know what he really wanted? To be closer to his family.
His dream job is not another stint in the camps. He may end up doing that & but his real dream job is to get on with Epcor, the Edmonton power utility. Because it would allow him to live his real life - instead of the half life that works live in isolated camps.
So those employers that are in the bigger centres & where people can actually settle and build lives & you have an advantage & which you should play up. For those who have no choice but do put people into remote locations & ever effort you make to that isolation more tolerable and the time away from family shorter will pay dividends.
Another important item on my DO list is training.
Your employees want to gain more skills, they want to get better at their jobs, they want to contribute and they want to advance. To put it in a nutshell they want the prospect of a better future & and training helps them get there.
Training & whether apprenticeship or some other kind of on-the-job instruction & makes sense for both the employee and the employer.
For workers it makes sense because with their improved skills comes confidence, self-worth and hope for the future.
And for employers training makes sense because you get a bigger pool of trained workers to draw from. Training also makes sense because you get that most of elusive things: loyalty. I've seen it time and again & employers who train, get employees who stay.
But there's a problem & and I think all of you know what it is. For years now, both governments and employers have been neglecting apprenticeships and training.
Only recently has the provincial government ramped up spending to fund new apprenticeship spots at technical schools like NAIT and SAIT. That's great, but those spots are only part of the solution. We all know that these young people can't get their journeyman's tickets without being indentured & they can't become an answer to your labour market shortages until they get on-the-job training from companies like yours.
And that's where the system is falling down. According to a study that was done recently by Skills Canada and the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum, only 18 per cent of Canadian employers take on and train young apprentices - although 41 per cent had the capacity to do so because they already had qualified tradespeople on staff who could supervise training &
The Construction Owners Assoc of Alberta came up with similar numbers. Of the 20,000 trades employers in Alberta, only 11,000 have apprentices.
This is what economists call the free rider problem. Most employers agree that it's desirable to train more apprentices. But too many of them don't want to bear the cost themselves.
Instead, they assume that "the other guy" will do it. Unfortunately, the "other guy" usually makes the same assumption and the number of apprenticeship positions available - even if Alberta's hot economy - fails to meet demand.
The energy sector is a particularly big culprit in this regard. A few years ago, the federal government - through the tripartide petroleum industry sector council - produced a report on training in the energy sector. As part of that consultation, the council's steering committee consulted with a number of big energy CEO from right here in Calgary. And do you know what they said? The petroleum big wigs said: "we don't have to train. We pay more, so we can just take the people we need from other sectors." That was only three years ago.
This helps explain why thousands of the young people who enroll in the trades never finish. The numbers on non completion are actually staggering. Less than half of those who enroll are completing their apprenticeship in the expected timeframe & and more than 40 per cent have still not earned their certificates after 10 years.
Given the current nature of Alberta's labour market, this is a travesty. And it's direct result of employers shirking their responsibilities when it comes to taking on apprenticeships.
And unfortunately, it's not just apprenticeships. Employers in Canada spend less on on-the-job training than almost any other OECD country & including the US.
So when it comes to my list of DOs training is a big one. In fact, I present it to you as a challenge. We're all suffering because, employers have shirked their obligations in training & it's time to start holding up your end.
That leads me to my list of don'ts.
DON'T be afraid of unions & and don't allow yourself to fall prey to the snake oil salesmen, often dress up as reputable sounding lawyers, who promises fool-proof "union avoidance" strategies. Those strategies, make the snake oil salesmen money. But they often leave you with a legacy of poisoned labour relations. And for what? So you have bragging rights?
The truth is that in tight labour markets, having a union in your workplace can be a big advantage. The record clearly shows that there is lower turn-over in unionized workplaces. Unions can also be useful partners in recruitment. Build trades unions have formal connections with hiring halls in other parts of the country where there are higher rates of unemployment. Industrial unions don't have hiring halls with guys sitting on lists & but we do have networks.
Unions can also be important partners in developing retention strategies that are tailored to your workplace. And a union contract can actually help you achieve that elusive goal of "cost certainty" & at least in the short term.
At the beginning I promised to do three things & I promised to talk about how rough the waters were; how you could avoid getting swamped and finally; I promised to look at the big picture. In particular, I talk about the importance of understanding what has been causing all the waves in our labour market. And I promised to make some suggestions about what, collectively, we can do to calm the waters.
As I've said, a big part of the problem is the failure on the part of government and employers to invest in trades training.
But I also think at least part of the problem is that the provincial government has deliberately been administering steroids to our economy & in the form of unreasonably low royalty rates.
The interesting thing about steroids is that they work - at least in the short term. They can greatly improve performance. But in the same way that steroids are ultimately bad for the human body, economic steroids can be bad for the economy.
What I'm talking about of course is the Alberta government's now famous one-per-cent royalty rate for the oil sands.
Like the steroids that athletes use, the one-per-cent royalty rates have worked. Coupled with record high oil prices, the one-per-cent royalty has set off a gold-rush of development. Oil companies are flocking to the oil sands - and why not. With the one-per-cent rate the provincial government is essentially giving away ours resources. None of the big oil companies want to miss out on the party.
Why you might ask is this of concern to a union leader. This is a labour issue because these low rates - all this development comes after years in which government failed to invest in trades training and employers failed to hold up their end by taking on adequate numbers of apprentices.
The result is as frustrating as it was predictable. Because of the steroids, demand goes up for trades people, but because of the inattention training the supply struggles to keep up.
The bottom line is that the Alberta government and the Alberta business community are authors of the tight labour market they are now complaining about. They are reaping what they have sown.
And what do they offer as a solution? More of the same on training and temporary foreign workers, that's what.
We think a better approach would be to get business and government to make commitments to ensure our apprenticeship system actually works. In particular, we need to squarely address the reality that employers are not holding their end up when it comes to providing jobs and placements for apprentices.
It's probably also time to revisit the one-per-cent royalty. These kind of fire-sale incentives were never prudent - even when oil was at $15 a barrel. And they are certainly not justifiable when it's at $70 a barrel.
It's also important to keep in mind that the oil sands is a resource that we, as Albertans, own collectively. It's fine for the Premier to say we'll get our pound of flesh eventually. But with all due respect, he's wrong. Once that oil is gone at one-per-cent, we'll never see it again - and we'll never get another chance to get money for it.
And we're not talking about pennies here. We're talking about tens of billions of dollars lost. That's money that could be spent on public prorities like health care, education and infrastructure.
We're short of like a junky. Not only are we taking a drug that ultimately hurts us & we're flushing our money down the drain to get it &
CALGARY - Unreasonably low royalty rates and years of under-investment in trades training have combined to create the tight labour market that so many Alberta business leaders and politicians are now complaining about, says Gil McGowan, the president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
"The government's famous one-percent royalty rate for the oil sands has set off a gold-rush of development because they're essentially giving away ours resources. None of the big oil companies want to miss out on the party," says McGowan.
"Unfortunately, all this development comes after years in which government failed to invest in trades training and employers failed to hold up their end by taking on adequate numbers of apprentices. The result is as frustrating as it was predictable. They are reaping what they have sown."
That's part of the message that McGowan delivered to a conference of resource sector human resource executives in Calgary. (Read the speech)
"The solution to the problem offered by government and business is an increased use of temporary foreign workers," says McGowan. "We think a better approach would be to get business and government to make commitments to ensure our apprenticeship system actually works. It's probably also time to revisit the one-percent royalty. These kind of fire-sale incentives were never prudent - and they are certainly not justifiable when oil is at $70 a barrel."
For more information call:
Gil McGowan, AFL President @ (780) 915-4599 (cell)
Beyond Chicken Little: Understanding the need for measured reforms to Alberta's system for skills training
When thinking about Alberta's labour market recently, it's hard not to be reminded of the children's fable about Chicken Little. No matter who you talk to - employers, government, or the media - everybody seems to be saying the sky is falling.
In this paper we argue that while the current Alberta labour market is tight, there is no reason to over-react. The sky is not falling.
EDMONTON-Alberta's largest union organization, the Alberta Federation of Labour, weighed into the debate over skills shortages today by unveiling a detailed new policy paper, entitled "Beyond Chicken Little: Understanding the Need for Measured Reforms to Alberta's System for Skills Training." (Access the report here)
The policy paper was submitted to the provincial government as part of a process aimed at developing a new ten-year framework for labour force development in the province.
"These days, when it comes to discussions about the labour force in Alberta, it's hard not to be reminded of the old children's fable about Chicken Little," says AFL president Gil McGowan.
"No matter who you're talking to, they all seem to be saying that the sky is falling. That's why we think our policy paper is so important. It shows clearly that the sky is not falling - and that there is really no justification to embrace the radical solutions being put forward by some employers and employer groups."
Among other things, the AFL paper uses current statistics to question the notion that Canada has "run out" of skilled trades people. It also highlights serious deficiencies in our current system for apprenticeship training which, if rectified, could greatly increase the number of Alberta trades people available for work.
"Unfortunately, when it comes to the skills shortage, most of our leaders in business and government have misdiagnosed the problem," says McGowan. "And as with anything, if you haven't identified the problem correctly, you probably won't be able to find the proper solutions. With our paper, we hope to put the government on the right track."
For more information call:
Gil McGowan, AFL President @ (780) 915-4599
1. Is Alberta actually short of skilled construction workers?
Alberta has an extremely tight labour market in particular skills, and the cost of labour is rising as a consequence. However, there is no evidence available, aside from unreliable anecdotal stories, that there are actual shortages of any single skill. Nor will the province likely be short of workers in the near future. Government and employer estimates show no real shortages (where demand for a particular skill situation actually exceeds supply) between now and 2009.
The Alberta Construction Workforce Development Forecasting Committee (CWDFC) is a collaborative effort between business and government - involving the Alberta Construction Contractors and Labour Organizations, the Construction Owners Association of Alberta, Alberta Advanced Education, Alberta Human Resources and Employment and Alberta Economic Development.
The CWDFC actually predicts very small surpluses of all construction trades workers throughout the period. For example, this year the Committee predicts a demand for 5980 plumbers and a supply of 6320; a demand for 3655 steamfitter/pipefitters and a supply of 3498; and a demand for 382 boilermakers with a supply of 411.
2. How long will this tight labour market for construction workers last?
Government and employers predict massive reductions in construction workforce demand by 2009. The CWDFC predicts that the construction workforce employed on major projects in Alberta will fall from 24,050 in 2008 to 8,800 in 2009. That means 15,000 fewer skilled construction workers will be employed on major projects in Alberta inn 2009 than the year before. In fact, the Committee predicts double-digit unemployment rates for most trades in 2009.
This shows the extreme volatility of construction employment - from 24,000 working one year to less than 9,000 working the next. Rapid swings in employment like this have made it extremely difficult for apprentices to complete their training in Alberta. Apprentices are often the last hired and the first let go - and without work, there is no apprenticeship the way things currently operate.
3. There are skilled Canadian construction workers who cannot work in Alberta.
For many construction trades, workers must be certified before they can work in Alberta. That means passing Alberta journeyperson exams or, alternately, getting the national Red Seal certification - which allows Canadian skilled tradespeople to work in any province in Canada. Any skilled worker in Canada can take the Red Seal exams.
However, only 16 % (184,000) of skilled workers in the Red Seal trades have their national certification. That leaves nearly a million (968,670) skilled workers who cannot carry move freely from province to province to work. This represents a huge untapped source of skilled workers for Alberta.
For example, there currently 56.3% of all plumbers (20,529) in Canada do not have their Red Seal. As well, 99 % of all ironworkers (9,893) and 84% of all industrial electricians (27,744) have no national certification.
4. How efficient is the Alberta apprenticeship system?
The public school system in Alberta views a 25% failure to complete rate a disgrace at the high school level. By contrast, over half (57.3%) of all apprentices in Alberta fail to complete their apprenticeship within the optimum program time. Even after eleven years, the failure to complete rate is over 40%.
The Alberta Apprenticeship and Industry training Board claims that 75% of apprentices complete their training - however, the Board does not include apprentices who fail to complete their first year in their calculations. That is like a high school not counting anyone who fails to finish grade 10 in their overall failure rate.
5. Do employers fully support the apprenticeship program?
Only 18 % of Canadian employers take on and train young apprentices - although 41 % of all employers had the capacity to do so - according to a recently released joint study by the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum and Skills Canada.
6. What about skills shortages in other areas?
Although there are skills shortages in various other sectors, the most notable is health care - where there has been a province-wide - and in fact global shortage of registered nurses for a decade. There is an extremely tight labour market, paralleling the current construction industry situation, throughout the technical and professional health care occupations. In 2005, the unemployment rate for professional healthcare occupations was 0.5% and the unemployment rate for related technical occupations was 0.3%.
Ireland has, since 2002, made tuition free for nursing students. Alberta does not have enough nursing seats at post-secondary schools to even begin to meet the predicted future demand for registered nurses.
EDMONTON - Industrial construction sites will be less safe, and the lives of workers could be at risk if the Minister of Advanced Education confirms a change of regulation recommended yesterday by the Alberta Apprenticeship and Industry Training Board, says the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL). The AFL is Alberta's largest labour organization, representing over 113,000 workers and their families.
The Apprenticeship Board has recommended that the Minister of Advanced Education, Dave Hancock, approve a reduction of the ratio of journeymen to apprentices on job sites in selected trades. The new rules will require only one journeyman for every one apprentice (1-to-1 ratio) for ironworkers, boilermakers and pipefitters. The previous rules required three journeymen for every apprentice (3-to-1 ratio).
"The proposed new ratio of journeymen to apprentices will weaken safety on construction sites, and could put lives at risk," says AFL President Gil McGowan. "The 3-to-1 ratio is a longstanding arrangement that ensured two things: quality training of apprentices and adequate supervision to ensure safety on the worksite. Both of these things are undermined with this decision."
During consultations over the change, representatives from both employers and labour argued against reducing the ratio. "The Apprenticeship Board is ignoring sound advice from the people doing the work. If the Minister simply rubber stamps their recommendation, more workers will get hurt."
The real reason for the decision, McGowan says, is to help a minority of well-connected employers who are looking for ways to lower their labour costs. "Apprentices work cheaper than fully ticketed tradespeople. The reason for the reduced ratio is to allow for fewer journeymen and more apprentices - lowering the employer's wage costs."
"It is clearly an example of putting profit ahead of safety."
McGowan says the new ratios might be appropriate for residential or small commercial construction, but are dangerous for large, industrial projects. "Industrial projects are complex jobs requiring high levels of skill and experience. Workers are often spread out and can be ten or fifteen minutes away from their apprentice. A 3-to-1 ratio builds in multiple contact points for an apprentice. With 1-to-1, what happens if something goes wrong?"
"Ignoring stakeholders while blindly doing the bidding of their corporate friends. This is classic Alberta Tory policy-making - and workers will pay the price," concludes McGowan. "I urge Minister Hancock to refuse this ill-advised regulatory change."
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For more information contact:
Gil McGowan, AFL President at 780.915.4599 (cell) or 780.483-3021 (wk)
The Alberta Federation of Labour is marking 2002 World Literacy Day (September 8th) by releasing a new video on literacy to labour councils and unions across the province.
"Our new production is designed to bring the many workplace and labour issues around literacy to the attention of union members and union leaders," said AFL Secretary Treasurer Kerry Barrett. "It is intended to encourage our affiliates and regional labour councils to set up literacy programs."
The 15 minute video was created by local videographer Don Bouzek with the assistance of the AFL, its literacy committee, and affiliated unions and members of the AFL. Financial support for the project was provided by the National Literacy Secretariat of Human Resources Development Canada.
"We use the video - which is designed for viewing at local union meetings - to get several important messages out," said Barrett. "First, that literacy is not just about reading and writing - literacy also encompasses number skills and computer skills and basic communications skills that are becoming more and more critical at work, at home and in our communities."
"Then", said Barrett, "we show people some successful literacy programs that they can easily adapt for use in their union local and their workplace."
"I am proud that the labour movement is taking some concrete steps to tackle literacy problems," concluded Barrett, "and I am confident that this project will produce real benefits to working people in Alberta."
Copies of the AFL Literacy Video are available to the media upon request.
For more information, contact:
Kerry Barrett, Secretary Treasurer @ 780-483-3021 (wk) / 780-720-8945 (cell)
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
EDMONTON - Working people in Alberta are being short-changed by a plan announced earlier today to re-organize government departments, says the president of the Alberta Federation of Labour. Audrey Cormack says Premier Klein's plan to establish a new Human Resources and Employment department is "a slap in the face for working people."
"The Premier can go on as much as he likes about stream-lining government and preparing Albertans for the new millennium," says Cormack. "But the bottom line is that the concerns of working people are going to get lost in the shuffle within this new super-department."
According to the plan unveiled by Klein this afternoon, the new Human Resources and Employment department will take responsibility for issues previously handled by the Labour department, the Family and Social Services Department and the Career Development branch of the Economic Development department.
Cormack says the new "super department" will put labour programs in the awkward position of having to compete for resources with programs from the family and social services side of the department.
"There are more than one and half million Albertans who work for a living," says Cormack. "Workplace issues like health and safety and the administration of the Labour Code and the Employment Standards Code are so important that they clearly deserve to be handled in their own separate department."
Cormack says the only rationale given by the Premier to justify the re-organization is that it meshes with the government's promises about putting a higher priority on education and training. But Cormack says there is a lot more to labour issues than training.
"We in the labour movement support efforts to improve training for Albertans - in fact, we've been urging the government to invest more in education and apprenticeships for years," says Cormack.
"But the labour department isn't just about preparing people for work. It's also about promoting health and safety. It's about making sure workers know their rights. It's about protecting those rights in the workplace. And it's about making sure employers know and uphold the law. We're afraid that these issues are not going to get the attention they deserve in the new department."
For more information call:
Audrey Cormack, AFL President @ 483-3021(wk)/499-6530(cell)/428-9367(hm)