In yesterday's Throne Speech, the Alberta government announced plans to review the province's often controversial Employment Standards Code -- the law that sets minimum standards for things like overtime, vacations, minimum wage and hours of work.
But while many people agree that changes are long overdue, the Alberta Federation of Labour fears a review of the Code under the direction of the current government may simply make a bad situation worse.
"This is the same government that is seriously considering a tearing up its own Human Rights legislation in order to satisfy the whims of a few big oil companies that want the right to impose mandatory drug testing on their workers," says AFL president Kerry Barrett.
"What concerns us is that this review will end up being yet another example of the government bending over backward to satisfy the demands of employers. And, yet again, the interests of working people will be ignored in the process."
In particular, Barrett worries that the government may decide to change rules on overtime -- so that employers can require their employees to work longer hours without overtime pay.
"That's exactly what the government of Conservative Premier Mike Harris did in Ontario a five years ago when they introduced a 60-hour work week," says Barrett. "Unfortunately, this kind of change is probably exactly what the government means when they say the Code needs to be made more 'current and relevant.'"
The impact of watered-down rules on overtime will be particularly harmful here in Alberta, says Barrett, because Albertans work more hours and put in more overtime (both paid and unpaid) than workers in any other province.
"Extending the work week or giving employers other ways to weasel out of paying overtime will hit many working Albertans hard," says Barrett. "It has the potential to take a really big bite out of the budgets of thousands and thousands of families."
Instead of weakening Employment Standards protections, Barrett says the government should focus on beefing up enforcement of existing rules.
"The biggest problem with Employment Standards today is not the wording of the Code," says Barrett. "Instead, it's the fact that the onus is always on employees to complain. The government almost never launches its own investigations. And even when employers are found guilty of violations, they rarely face more than a stern warning and a slap on the wrist. That kind of weak-kneed approach to enforcement is what really has to change in this province."
For more information call
Kerry Barrett, AFL President @ (780) 720-8945 (cell)
Gil McGowan, AFL Communications @ (780) 483-3021 (work)