As workplace infections spread in Alberta, AFL calls on government to reassess its approach to keeping workers and the public safe

EDMONTON – In light of news that workers have tested positive for COVID-19 at an oil sands worksite near Fort McMurray and at a meat-packing plant near Calgary, the president of the Alberta Federation of Labour says the time has come for the provincial government to re-evaluate its list of “essential workplaces” and consider beefing-up inspection and enforcement on worksites that continue to operate during the provincial pandemic lockdown.

“I am writing to urgently request that your government reconsider which worksites are truly essential and which could be temporarily closed to help stop the spread of the coronavirus,” said AFL president Gil McGowan in a letter sent to provincial labour minister Jason Copping today.

“We are also asking that your government stop letting companies essentially regulate themselves when it comes to compliance with public health directives issued by the Chief Medical Officer of Health. Specifically, we think the government needs to beef up its inspection and enforcement efforts – with escalating fines and worksite closures for non-compliance.”

McGowan said, “we acknowledge and applaud the efforts many employers have made to address these challenges, especially in industrial construction. But we’re not convinced enough is being done to keep workers and the public safe in all sectors, in all workplaces and at all times.”

McGowan also acknowledged most oil sands employers have done notably more than employers in other sectors to address concerns about the spread of COVID-19, but he said the bar must be higher for them, because the stakes are higher.

“Given that all oil sands workers have the potential to become “super spreaders” as they fly back to their home communities across the country, we think the time has come to reassess and re-think our current rules and protocols.”

McGowan concluded his letter by reiterating his call to consider shrinking the list of workplaces deemed “essential” and move away from employer self-regulation for workplaces that remain open.

“We urge you to replace your government’s current approach to compliance, which largely relies on employer self-regulation, with an approach that focuses on aggressive inspection and enforcement. Employers, in all sectors, who are not following the rules need to be identified and they need to be fined or even shut down.”

McGowan’s letter to Minister Copping can be read in full here.

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MEDIA CONTACT:
Ramona Franson
Director of Communications, AFL
rfranson@afl.org