EDMONTON-The death of a 14-year boy working with heavy equipment at the Reynolds Auto and Aircraft Museum in Wetaskiwin is a tragedy that illustrates why children should not be allowed to perform adult jobs, says the president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
"The provincial government opened a dangerous door last month when they said it was okay for 12 to 14 year-olds to work in restaurants," says Gil McGowan. "And then the Minister of Human Resources went further by telling the media that jobs actually help children build character. I wonder if the minister is singing the same tune today?"
The boy killed in Wetaskiwin did not have a permit to work and would not have been eligible for one even under the newly relaxed rules for child workers. But McGowan says by weakening its rules and being so openly dismissive of critics, the government has created a climate in which the safety of children has been put on the back burner.
"They've created an expectation and acceptance amongst both young people and adults, that kids can - and even should - be working," says McGowan. "It's a green light from the government - one that will likely lead to a repeat of the tragedy we've seen in Wetaskiwin."
McGowan says the government has attempted to pass off responsibility for regulating kids' involvement in the work place, saying it's up to the parents to decide. But he says that's not fair to parents.
"Young teens can seem very articulate and capable. And, as every parent knows, they can be very persuasive," says McGowan. "It's not hard to imagine a 12 or 13 year-old being able to convince his or her parents that they're ready to take a job. But at the end of the day, no matter how big, smart or tough these kids appear, they're still kids. And they need to be protected."
McGowan says that even the most mature 12 to 14 year olds lack the knowledge and experience to stand up for themselves in the workplace and recognize basic workplace hazards.
"This is not meant as a criticism of kids, but rather as an acknowledgement of reality - kids of that age are not ready to be in an adult work environment, especially if that environment includes dangers such as heavy equipment, fast fryers or cutting machines."
McGowan - who grew up on a farm and remembers pressuring his own parents for permission to work on heavy equipment at an early age - says his heart goes out to the father of the boy killed in Wetaskiwin.
"As a father of young kids, I can't even imagine the pain the family is feeling right now," he says. "But if we want to avoid this kind of thing from happening again, what we need is a strong message from the government. We need firm regulations so that when an eager youngster asks for permission to work, parents can honestly say: �You'll have to wait another few years son. It's the law.'"
With that in mind, McGowan is encouraging the government to reconsider its recent policy changes regarding kids in the workforce.
"Whether it's a machine shop or a fast-food kitchen, kids should not be working there. This tragedy is a wake-up call - one that should not be ignored."
EDMONTON - As of June 3, 2005, Alberta employers can now legally hire 12, 13 and 14-year olds to work in restaurants, the Alberta Federation of Labour revealed today. In a quiet policy change, implemented without public debate or discussion, the Alberta government decided to allow for a blanket exemption to the Employment Standards Code for the entire restaurant industry. Previously, a person had to be 15-years old to work in a restaurant.
"With the stroke of a pen, the government has created a new type of child labour in this province. 12-year olds can now serve you your Big Mac, or prepare your salad," says Gil McGowan. "What's next? Letting 10-year olds work on construction sites?"
"It is particularly appalling that a change of this magnitude was made without public consultation, without debate and without notice," McGowan adds.
"Allowing 12-year olds to work in restaurants is not in the child's interest, it is not in the customers' interest, and it is not in society's interest. Kids that young should be doing two things - going to school and playing," observes McGowan. "There is plenty of time in life for working, why are we in such a rush to push children into the workforce?"
McGowan said the real motivation for the policy change is clear - propping up the interests of restaurant operators.
"Restaurant employers are having a hard time finding adults willing to work for the low wages and lousy conditions they offer, and rather than raise their wages, they get the government to create a whole new pool of vulnerable workers."
The old policy prohibited children under 15 from working, except in select jobs such as newspaper carrier or odd jobs in an office or retail store. If an employer wanted to hire an adolescent (12-14), they needed to get a special exemption for that individual from the Director of Employment Standards.
The new policy now allows restaurants to hire adolescents without permission, if they meet certain safety and consent requirements. This is the first time employment standards have provided an industry-wide exemption to the age limit. (A copy of the new policy is available at www.gov.ab.ca/hre/employmentstandards.)
"The supposed safeguards are nothing of the kind," says McGowan. "They are paper tigers that will do nothing to protect these children against abuse, exploitation or danger." McGowan points out the 'requirements' are that the employer must fill out a checklist, and get the consent of the child and their parent.
"A 12-year old is not in a position to defend themselves against employer abuse. They have no way of recognizing a safety hazard, or understanding their rights," McGowan argues. "We have created a situation where young children are being put in very vulnerable positions. It's a recipe for exploitation."
"Is this the Alberta Advantage?" McGowan asks. "Child labour in our restaurants? I don't think this is what Albertans want."
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For more information contact:
Gil McGowan, AFL President at 780.915.4599 (cell) or 780.483-3021 (wk)
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)
Policy statement presented at AFL 44th Constitutional Convention, May 12 - 15, 2005
On the eve of the 10th International Day of Mourning, the Alberta Federation of Labour is releasing the latest statistics on workplace fatalities in Alberta, showing an increase in both the number of deaths and in the fatality rate.
"The problem is getting worse, not better," says AFL Secretary Treasurer Kerry Barrett. "Alberta is losing the battle against workplace death."
Last year 127 work-related deaths were accepted by WCB. This is the highest figure ever recorded in Alberta. In addition, another 14 deaths occurred on farms in Alberta. Farm deaths are not included in WCB statistics, but can be considered work-related deaths as well.
The fatality rate in Alberta is also on the rise. In 2003, the rate was 7.0 deaths per 100,000 workers, up from 5.65 deaths in 2002. If farm deaths are included, the rate jumps to 7.7. Over the past ten years rates have climbed slightly. In 1993, the rate was 5.38 (see backgrounder).
"Despite all its rhetoric and its ad campaigns, the government has failed to protect workers," says Barrett. "Why are death rates climbing?"
"The answer," Barrett suggests "is lack of enforcement. The government continues to treat employers with kid-gloves." Barrett is encouraged by recent increases in fines and prosecutions, but she says much more can be done to send the message that health and safety is a serious matter in Alberta.
"The message to Alberta employers needs to be that if they do work in Alberta, it must be done safely. No exceptions."
The AFL will be joining with thousands of workers across the province tomorrow to commemorate Day of Mourning. It is an important day, says Barrett, because it is an opportunity to both remember those workers who were killed and to shine a spotlight on the dangers of work.
"But Day of Mourning is just one day," says Barrett. "If we are to make sure no one is killed because they needed to earn a paycheque, then all of us - employers, workers and government - need to step up our action to prevent another working getting killed."
"Enough words. Time for action."
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For more information contact:
Kerry Barrett, AFL Secretary Treasurer at 483-3021 (wk) or 720-8945 (cell)
Jason Foster, Director of Policy Analysis at 483-3021
This is clearly a victory for all those workers who have been unfairly denied benefits. But given the government's track record on this issue, we can't assume it's a done deal. We need to watch them like hawks and make sure they don't try to wiggle out of the commitments they've made.
The provincial government first announced a sweeping package of reforms to the Workers Compensation Board (WCB) two years ago. Establishing a tribunal to review old cases was a major part of those reforms - but the idea was shelved by Human Resources Minister Clint Dunford as a result of intense lobbying from business.
Thanks to some very effective campaigning by injured workers and unions, the tribunal is a "go" again. But even though the government has finally agreed to do what it promised to do in the first place there's every reason to worry that the business community and reluctant members of the Tory cabinet will find other ways to make the tribunal a "toothless tiger."
Let's not forget that at one point, Dunford suggested the tribunal could make decisions without offering cash awards. The idea was that injured workers would get the satisfaction of knowing they were right, but they wouldn't get any real financial compensation for their injuries.
It's those kinds of ineffective half-measures that we still have to guard against.
Appointments to the new tribunal will also be crucial - the process will be a sham if injured workers and the labour movement aren't given some say in who sits on the panel.
As AFL president Les Steel said after the government made its long-awaited announcement on the tribunal: "There are a lot of people in the business community who don't want this panel to do its job. If some of those people are appointed to the tribunal, then the whole process will be a farce. That's why we need a say in appointments."
The bottom line is that the government is still not enthusiastic about the tribunal. That's why it's too early to celebrate. Labour activists have to remain focused and vigilant until this baby is actually delivered.
Gil McGowan, AFL Executive Staff
After nearly two years of on-again, off-again support for a major review of old WCB cases, the government has finally agreed to open the books on previously rejected claims covering thousands of injured workers.
"This is clearly a victory for all those workers who have been unfairly denied benefits," says AFL president Les Steel.
"But given the government's track record on this issue, we can't assume it's a done deal. We need to watch them like hawks and make sure they don't try to wiggle out of the commitment they've made to injured workers."
The provincial government first announced a major package of reforms to the Workers Compensation Board (WCB) two years ago. Establishing a tribunal to review old cases was a major part of those reforms - but the idea was shelved by Human Resources Minister Clint Dunford as a result of intense lobbying from business.
Even though the government has finally agreed to do what it promised to do two years ago, Steel says he's still worried that the business community and reluctant members of the Tory cabinet will find a way to make the tribunal a "toothless tiger."
"At one point, the minister suggested that the tribunal could make decisions without offering cash awards," says Steel. "The idea was that injured workers would get the satisfaction of knowing they were right, but they wouldn't get any real financial compensation for their injuries. It's those kinds of ineffective half-measures that we still have to guard against."
Steel says appointments to the new tribunal will also be crucial - and he thinks the process will be a sham if injured workers and the labour movement aren't given some say in who sits on the panel.
"There are a lot of people in the business community who don't want this panel to do its job," says Steel. "If some of those people are appointed to the tribunal, then the whole process will be a farce. That's why we want a say in appointments."
For more information call:
Les Steel, AFL President @ 780-499-4135 (cell)
Gil McGowan AFL Communications @ 780-910-1137 (cell)
Today, workers in Alberta will mark the 8th Annual International Day of Mourning for workers killed and injured on the job. Remembrances will take place at workplaces and at special ceremonies around the province.
"For the sixth year in a row, Alberta workplaces have claimed the lives of over 100 workers," says Les Steel, President of the Alberta Federation of Labour. "And that number counts only deaths accepted by the Workers' Compensation Board. The actual number is many times greater."
Last year, according to official statistics, 101 workers lost their lives at work and over 155,000 more were injured.
"Two deaths a week shows that in this province, work is hazardous to your health," says Steel. "The Day of Mourning is important not only to remember those who have lost their lives or health at work, but to commit to take action to end this scourge," he adds. "Every single workplace death is preventable."
Steel adds that unions in Canada are currently pressing the federal government to introduce legislation which will hold corporations and managers personally liable for negligence which leads to a fatality.
"We need legislation which clearly says to those who put profits before human life, that we don't consider workplace fatalities an accident, we consider it a crime," says Steel.
The Day of Mourning was started by the Canadian Labour Congress in 1984 and was officially recognized federally in 1991. It has since grown to become an international event, commemorated in over 70 countries worldwide.
The Alberta Federation of Labour is holding a commemorative ceremony to mark the day:
Monday, April 28 - 7:00 pm at City Hall
The event is a mix of cultural performances, speakers, and a candle lighting to commemorate the Day of Mourning. Strong visual images are an important part of the ceremony. City Councillor Dave Thiele will present the official proclamation on behalf of the City of Edmonton.
For further information contact:
Les Steel, President 780-499-4135 (cell)
Scott Harris, Executive Director 780-483-3021 (work)
Marking the 7th International Day of Mourning, the Alberta Federation of Labour is asking why workplace deaths are given much lower priority than other causes of death. The AFL suggests that any other thing that killed two people a week would be called an epidemic.
Sunday April 28th is the International Day of Mourning, and is recognized around the world as the day to remember workers who have been killed and injured due to work. Day of Mourning started in Canada in 1986 after the labour movement persuaded the House of Commons to proclaim the day.
"If a disease killed two people a week every year, we might call it an epidemic," says AFL President Les Steel. "There would be millions poured into research and prevention."
"Last year in Alberta 118 workers were killed because of work - and that is just the official figure," Steel points out. "That is more than two workers a week. And the rate has remained that high for years now."
But, Steel points out, the Alberta government only puts $4 per worker into health and safety enforcement and prevention. By comparison, the meningitis outbreak in Alberta has killed 4 people. The Alberta government launched a $22 million campaign to immunize young people from the disease.
"Meningitis is a serious disease that deserves prompt preventative action such as immunization," says Steel. "My question is why does the death of 118 workers each year not spark the same concern?"
"The answer is that still too many people, including the Alberta government, believe that workplace accidents are just another cost of doing business. What we need is a zero tolerance policy on workplace accidents."
Steel points out that the government refuses to even lower flags to half-mast on April 28 in respect for the 118 killed workers. "We made a request to the Minister to lower flags on that day, but he refused outright. This says a lot about what kind of priority he places on injured workers."
The City of Edmonton and other Alberta municipalities regularly proclaim Day of Mourning. Flags at City of Edmonton buildings will be flown at half mast on Sunday. "I can't see why the provincial government can't do the same."
"We want to use the Day of Mourning to recommit ourselves to working for safer workplaces and an end to workplace death. We want every worker in Alberta to make it home safe at the end of the work day," Steel concludes.
For more information contact:
Les Steel, President @ 780-483-3021 (wk)/780-499-4135 (cell)
Day of Mourning Ceremony
Sunday April 28
2:00 pm to 3:00 pm
Edmonton City Hall (City Room)
The Alberta Federation of Labour and the Edmonton and District Labour Council are co-sponsoring a ceremony to honour and remember workers who were killed and injured on the job. The ceremony is part of the 7th International Day of Mourning, which is observed around the world to recognize the tragedy of workplace death.
"Last year two workers were killed every week in Alberta," says AFL President Les Steel. "When one death is too many, what should we call 118 deaths?" In 2001, 118 workers were killed at work in the province. This is the same number as the year 2000.
Organizers of the event recognize that the Day of Mourning ceremony conflicts with the recently announced memorial for four Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan. Plans for the Day of Mourning ceremony have been in the works for months, and the soldier's memorial was announced too late to permit organizers to alter plans.
"It is unfortunate that both events are happening at the same time," says Steel. "But we need to remember that the four soldiers were essentially workers at work. And in our efforts to acknowledge their sacrifice, we should not forget the 118 Albertans who made a similar sacrifice just to make a living and feed their family."
The event will include speakers, music and dramatic readings. The event will centre around the lighting of a Day of Mourning candle.
For More Information:
Jason Foster, AFL Director @ 780-483-3021 (wk)