Employment Minister Thomas Lukaszuk said Thursday he will publicly identify employers who consistently ignore safety orders, once he finds a way around privacy issues.
Opposition parties, unions and academics called for Lukaszuk to distribute the list, but the minister said privacy concerns prohibit him from doing so right now.
The issue heated up a day after an auditor general's report highlighted a lack of enforcement to deal effectively with companies that fail to meet safety standards, sometimes after workplace accidents.
Gil McGowan, president of the AFL, said the government owes it to Albertans to name employers who fail to follow safety orders.
"Albertans deserve to know whether the company they work for, or apply to work for, takes safety seriously," he said. "There's nothing like the light of public scrutiny to correct corporate behaviour."
That request was echoed by the provincial Liberals and the Alberta Centre for Injury Control and Research.
"If you have a restaurant that doesn't comply with health standards, they go on a public list," said Don Voaklander, director of the centre. "It should be no different here."
On Thursday, Lukaszuk said he can't release the list, but left the door open to doing so in the future.
"Now I cannot legally release the list," he said, citing privacy laws. "Although I am a proponent of releasing that list."
Lukaszuk said he is working on a new policy that would allow him to release all employers' safety records. He said his staff has been working on such a measure for weeks. It is unclear what information would be released, but he says it would not be limited to employers who have outstanding compliance orders.
"It will provide a list of not just the bad guys, so to speak, but all employers."
Lukaszuk could not explain why companies that failed to follow orders were not fined or otherwise punished, though he added those that "willingly choose to ignore" laws will be dealt with.
He was appointed employment minister earlier this year.
Over a five-month period in 2007 and 2008, the auditor general's office reviewed nearly 4,000 compliance orders issued by the government. While most employers did comply, 109 orders for 63 employers were not followed. Those employers had an injury rate three to four times the provincial average.
Auditors also found the government often suspended compliance orders even if the companies didn't follow them.
Liberal MLA Hugh MacDonald wants the list released. He rejected the argument that privacy rules prevent the government from doing so, saying the government is simply unwilling to protect workers to the fullest.
The review of Workplace Health and Safety was supposed to be done last year, MacDonald said, but was delayed because of budget cuts to the auditor general's office.
While Voaklander said enforcement options should be used, he cautioned against too much emphasis on reactive strategies, after an injury has taken place.
"The 'get it done' attitude won't work," he said.
"A culture where safety comes first will work. If that comes from the top, if everyone watches everyone's back, it will be a safe and productive workplace."
McGowan criticized the government for being "pro-business," and not wielding "the big stick," against the minority of employers who fail to comply. He has requested an emergency meeting with Lukaszuk.
The auditor general did not release the names of any employers, but his report said "the majority of these employers have less than 200 workers. Their combined workforce accounts for over 31,000 jobs."
There were 110 workplace-related deaths in Alberta in 2009. There were 166 in 2008, and 154 in 2007.
Byline: Ryan Cormier
Edmonton Journal, with files from Trish Audette, Fri Apr 16 2010