"This hiring of 10 new safety officers in each of the next three years must be seen in context," says Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, which represents 140,000 workers. "The government of Ralph Klein slashed the number of inspectors by about half in the early 1990s and we only got back to those numbers in 2009, when there were 86. This was despite the fact that our population had increased by one million and the size of our workforce had seen massive growth."
Alberta is one of the most dangerous places in Canada to work, with its concentration of jobs in industrial sectors that are hazardous, including petroleum development, construction, transportation, manufacturing and processing. Despite this, the Progressive Conservatives have spent less than other jurisdiction on worker health and safety.
"Because Alberta is such a dangerous place to work, we need to spend more than other provinces on safety. Hiring these new inspectors may help us crawl some way back out of the hole that Klein dug, but it will not make us the leaders in safety that we need to be," says McGowan.
"We must also question Employment and Immigration Minister Thomas Lukaszuk on where the money for these inspectors will come from, because the amount for inspection went up only 1.5 per cent in the budget last week, which is less than inflation and population growth," he says.
"The AFL has long called for more inspectors to be hired. It is part of the 10-point action plan of safety we released last year. However, as Alberta heads into another boom, we need more action, more improvements to save the lives and limbs of Alberta's workers," says McGowan.
Inspectors must be given the power to issue on-site administrative fines and stop-work/stop-use orders in cases where they find violations. More resources should also be provided to Crown Prosecutors to pursue charges against workplace that violate the Occupational Health and Safety Code.
"Of the 142 people who lost their lives while at work from 2006 to 2009, the province prosecuted less than three per cent of the employers involved. That is simply unacceptable."
Gil McGowan, President, Alberta Federation of Labour @ cell 780-218-9888 or office 780-483-3021