Once again, Alberta workers have been disappointed by an Alberta government that says it cares about them, but shows by its actions that workplace safety is not as big a priority as it should be.
"The government had a real chance to save lives and prevent workplace injuries, but today they failed to take full advantage of that opportunity," says Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, which represents 140,000 workers.
While the 10-point plan announced today by Employment Minister Thomas Lukaszuk has some merit, upon closer examination, it doesn't live up to its promise.
"Albertans want and have a right to know the full safety records of employers, including their history of violations of the Occupational Health and Safety Code.," says McGowan. "We were led to believe that these records, including details of all violations, would be made available and posted on a website. What we are getting instead, according to the Minister, is a much less useful list of times lost to injuries. The number of violations a company has, and what those violations were will be kept secret."
As well as lacking the courage to reveal the names of employers who violate the safety code, the government has shown it hasn't got the stomach to improve its dismal record of prosecuting those who break the law. Alberta currently prosecutes at much lower rates than other provinces, even in cases involving workplace fatalities. Since 2006, the province has prosecuted in only three per cent of workplace fatalities.
"Employers are not being made to pay the price for putting the workers' lives at risk. The result is that many Alberta employers don't take safety as seriously as they should - because they know they can likely get away with doing less. This needs to change - and a plan for more aggressive prosecutions should be a core part of the minister's plan," says McGowan.
The AFL welcomes the plan to hire eight new inspectors, but questions whether this will be enough. Alberta has more people working in the most dangerous occupations than other provinces and needs to have a much higher number of inspectors to ensure rules are being followed.
These inspectors should also be given the power to issue tickets and fines for smaller offences right on the spot - as opposed to having to wait for long legal prosecutions, which, in Alberta, are often not pursued.
Media Contact: Gil McGowan, President, Alberta Federation of Labour (780) 218-9888