Review Committee Reports Agree with Workers that WCB System Not Working

The Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) today responded to the release of two WCB Review Committee Reports by stating that injured workers have been vindicated by the findings. Both reports were highly critical of WCB, calling it unaccountable. Both reports recommend sweeping changes to WCB policies and procedures. The AFL urged the Minister of Human Resources and Employment, Clint Dunford, to act swiftly on the reports. "I feel injured workers around the province have been vindicated today," says AFL President Audrey Cormack. "We have said for years that the WCB is unaccountable, unresponsive and uninterested in helping injured workers. The two review committees agree with us." "However, I am concerned these reports, like so many before them, will simply gather dust on the Minister's desk," adds Cormack. "I intend to pressure Minister Dunford to act swiftly to implement the recommendations found in the reports." The MLA review committee found that the core problem at WCB is a lack of accountability. "I agree that accountability is the issue most needing correction at the WCB. It can't happen too soon for me." Cormack also highlights that the MLA Committee suggests that conflict of interest is a serious potential problem at the WCB. Cormack urges further exploration of this matter. Cormack says that she is in agreement with most of the recommendations found in the MLA Review Committee. In particular, she is pleased to see recommendations addressing: Recommendations curtailing the power of medical advisors and give more authority to the treating physician and an independent panel of doctors. Establishment of a Tribunal to review past cases where the worker did not receive just compensation. Implementation of an Alternative Disputes Resolution mechanism. The AFL's opinion of the Appeals Systems Review committee is more mixed. "I am very, very pleased they are recommending the WCB pay for external advocates hired by injured workers. This will make the system much more fair." Cormack is concerned with recommendations urging the Appeals Commission fall under the Department of Justice, and that a more "legalistic" framework be established for appeals. "In our submission to the Committee, we stated that we did not think a more legalistic approach would help injured workers." "Today the WCB got its long deserved conviction for failing in its mandate. Hopefully tomorrow we can get the needed changes implemented so we can finally have a fair and just WCB in this province," Cormack concludes. For further information contact: Audrey M. Cormack, President (cell) 780-499-6530 Jason Foster, Director  (cell) 780-910-1137

Cormack urges Conservatives to "safeguard our most precious resource"

EDMONTON - On a day dedicated to our nation's children, Audrey Cormack, President of the Alberta Federation of Labour is asking the Klein government, "where is the money in the provincial budget that is dedicated to developing the province's most valuable resource - its children?" "With 16 percent of children under the age of 18 living in poverty in this province, it seems pretty clear that there is not enough being done by this government," says Cormack. "These children are being trapped in a cycle of poverty and violence, which lends itself to an array of other risks, delays and problems.  Kids in these environments will probably face the same bleak reality as their parents - marginal employability and disempowerment," says Cormack. A Report released in August 2000 by the Department of Children's Services shows child welfare caseloads have increased by 82% from 1992-1993 caseload rates.  The report recommended that families with dependent children who are on welfare should have enough income to provide their children with life opportunities similar to those of other children in their communities. "What this increase says to me is that there are even more children not being able to experience the so-called 'Alberta Advantage.'  Instead, they are having to rely on a child welfare system that is stretched to the limit," says Cormack. "And we know children are poor because their parents are poor. That means Alberta should increase its minimum wage, for a start, and take a serious look at how Alberta families are coping in our province." "Children are still bearing the burden of Klein's cuts.  With all the money that has been poured into other resource areas lately, I urge this government to step up and put money into children. Child welfare, education and core funding for organizations that serve children, all need to become substantial parts of this government's spending." National Child Day was created in 1993 by the Federal government to commemorate the United Nations' adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989.  Rights covered under this convention include children's rights to education, healthcare and protection from harm. President Cormack says, "I would hope that Mr. Klein would use this day to realize that our resources are not limited to oil and gas; Albertans need to be recognized.  By putting money back into children, we take a step to ensuring the rights of children are met.  They are too valuable a resource to disregard." For further information contact: Audrey M. Cormack, President (cell) 499-6530 / (hm) 428-9367 / (wk) 471-5525 Statistics Canada, Low Income Persons, 1980 to 1997(Catalogue 13-569-XIB)The report "Child Welfare Caseload Growth in Alberta" (August 31, 2000) can be obtained from the Deputy Minister's Office, Childrens' Services, Government of Alberta.

Government Taking On A Health and Safety Headache in Swan Hills Plant

EDMONTON - The Alberta Federation of Labour released documents today accessed through the Freedom of Information Act which show that Bovar employees have elevated PCB levels in their blood and that health and safety incidents such as spills and leaks of contaminated waste is frequent on the Swan Hills site. "If the government intends to take over Swan Hills, they had better know that they have a huge health and safety problem at that site," says AFL President Audrey Cormack. "Documents we received through FOIP show that PCB blood levels in Bovar workers have grown steadily since 1993. The documents also show that Bovar's health and safety record is questionable." "When the government takes over, their first priority better be cleaning up the site and doing a better job of protecting the workers." Cormack pointed out that Bovar records show that in 1993 blood levels of PCBs averaged 1.8 PPB in Swan Hills workers. By 1997, this number reached 8.25 PPB. In 1999 the level was 7.28 (chart attached). A Bovar memo relates the small drop to "the increase of new employees who may not have been exposed to PCB's previously." (memo dated July 17, 1998). The documents also show that in 1998 that 4% of Bovar's workforce had PCB blood levels over 30 ppb, which is the level at which immediate action is required to limit PCB exposure. While the scientific measurements of PCB blood levels are very complicated, most experts consider the levels seen at the Swan Hill plant to be above normal and at a level that should be addresssed. "The documents also show that the Swan Hills plant has a track record of consistent spills and leaks of contaminated waste," adds Cormack. Health and Safety reports show that spills or leaks causing exposure to hazards happen monthly at the Swan Hills site. "My primary concern is the welfare of those workers," says Cormack. "Bovar has clearly not done a good enough job protecting them from PCBs and other hazards. If the government is going to step in, they had better do a better job than Bovar did." Cormack urged the government to bring in scientific experts independent of the Swan Hills Plant to study the problem and offer actions that can be taken to protect the workers. She also wonders why the government never cracked down on Bovar during all these years of health and safety problems. "If they can't assure the safety of the workers at the plant, it should be shut down until they can, and the workers compensated for the loss of employment and for the exposure to PCBs." Cormack concluded. For more information call: Audrey M. Cormack, President at 499-6530 (cell) or428-9367 (hm) Jason Foster at 910-1137 (cell) or 471-5525 (office)

The "Hidden Giveaways" of the Federal Mini-Budget: Corporate Tax Cuts

The hidden secret in yesterday's pre-election mini-budget by Federal Finance Minister Paul Martin was billions in corporate tax reductions, the AFL points out today. Despite the crowings of the Finance minister, the reality of yesterday's announcement is that corporations will be receiving a bigger tax break than Canadian families from the Liberals as they head into a snap election next week. "While Paul Martin was bragging about tax cuts for Canadians, under the table he was quietly slipping corporations a massive tax cut - one even larger than Canadian families receive," says Audrey Cormack, President of the Alberta Federation of Labour. "The Liberal government's real priorities are surviving the next six weeks, not setting sound policy for the next few years." "According to the government's own figures, corporate tax rates will be dropping 35% by 2004-05," observes Cormack. "The average tax break for families is 21%." Cormack pointed out that while the personal tax rate will only be dropping between 6% and 10%, corporate tax rates are being slashed 25%. The cut in the Capital Gains inclusion rate from two-thirds to one-half will amount to billions more in corporate profits going untaxed. "The cut in the capital gains tax is the move that makes the least sense. It is multi-billion dollar freebie to speculators, the big banks and large corporations with no public policy rationale," Cormack observes. "No one was calling for this cut, and it make absolutely no economic sense." Cormack says she was looking for more financial support for important people programs - health care and education. "The mini-budget virtually ignored the real priorities of working Canadians." However, Cormack points out that the creation of a fourth tax bracket - a rate of 29% above income of $100,000 - is a positive move, as it restores more progressivity in the tax system. This positive move is unfortunately nullified by the elimination of the Deficit Reduction Surtax on incomes over $100,000. "The federal Liberals are spinning a tale that they are the friends of working families. However their Bay Street membership cards are showing in the back pockets. And it shows when you take a close look at their policy." Cormack concludes. For more information call:Audrey M. Cormack, President  at  499-6530 (cell)  or 428-9367 (hm)

Cormack urges leaders to embrace the progressive spirit of the "Famous Five"

EDMONTON - Politicians like Ralph Klein and Jean Chretien should dust off their history books tomorrow and learn some valuable lessons from the past, says AFL president Audrey Cormack. Tomorrow is the 70th anniversary of the famous "Persons Case" in which Canadian women were finally recognized as "persons" under law. "Our leaders today could learn a lot from the women who fought for recognition in the Persons Case," says Cormack. "They demonstrated the kind of commitment to the public good that is sorely lacking in our leaders today." The Persons Case was launched by five women in 1928 after the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously decided that women were not "persons" under law and, therefore, were ineligible to hold public office as Canadian Senators. The five women - now known as the "Famous Five" - appealed the decision to the British Privy Council, which at the time was the highest court in the Commonwealth. In 1929, the Privy Council reversed the Supreme Court decision, calling the exclusion of women from public office "a relic of days more hazardous than ours." Cormack says the Persons Case was a great victory for women and Canadian society in general, adding that the women involved - including Albertans Henrietta Muir Edwards, Mary Parlby, Emily Murphy and Louise McKinney - were role models that politicians today should pattern themselves on. "They started out fighting for women's rights and that always remained their focus," says Cormack. "They also committed themselves to the struggle for public health care, quality education, workplace safety and decent wages. The same things that we continue to fight for today." Persons Day comes on the heels of the World March of Women 2000 in which women from over 154 countries marched, rallied and lobbied around the issues of violence against women and the eradication of poverty. "To see 50,000 women on Parliament Hill on a Sunday afternoon cannot be ignored. The determination and resilience of the "Famous Five" is alive and well thirty years after the monumental case. It's time the federal and provincial leaders stop speaking in circles when it comes to issues affecting women," says Cormack. "Through their efforts Canada became a better, more caring place. In our current era of privatization and bottom-line politics, we need people like McKinney, Murphy and the others more than ever. I urge all of our leaders to consider the example set by the Persons Case. I urge them to embrace the progressive spirit and the political will of the 'Famous Five'," says Cormack. For more information call: Audrey M. Cormack, President  @ 499-6530 (cell) or 428-9367 (hm)

Working Alone Committee Members Issue "Minority Report"

Labour members of the Task Force that recommended new provisions for working alone regulations released a "minority report" today stating the provisions "fall short" in protecting workers. The "Minority Report" comes in response to the official implementation of new working alone regulations. "The Alberta government missed an opportunity today," says Audrey Cormack, AFL President. "The new regulations fall far short of what is needed to really protect workers who have to work alone." The Minority Report comes from a group of 6 Labour representatives on the General Safety Regulation Task Force, which is the body charged with recommending new regulations for working alone. The Task Force recommendations included a mandatory assessment of the hazards and some form of effective communication system. "The labour representatives attempted to include stronger provisions, such as permitting a worker to refuse working alone that may put their safety at substantial risk, but were shot down by the employer side of the Task Force," says Jason Foster, who represented the AFL on the Task Force. "Banning working alone was never in the Minister's plan," says Foster. Foster indicates the Minister communicated to a number of parties that a ban was never in the works. This message affected the Task Force's deliberations. The labour representatives decided to support the six sections as a first step measure. "It was the best compromise possible given the strong opposition from employers and the government," says Foster. "We want the public to know that the provisions do not go far enough." The Minority Report calls for additional steps to be taken, including: Making the elimination of working alone (scheduling more than one worker) the first consideration before other hazard controls The Minister be given the discretion to designate certain jobs "high hazard" and ban working alone in those jobs Permitting workers to refuse to work alone if it places their safety at "substantial risk" Define "effective communication system" as having both an emergency call for the employee and a regular check-in by someone who can get help "Preventing working alone should be the first level of defence," says Cormack. "With this government, it barely makes the radar screen."The labour representatives will continue to sit on the Task Force and try to make improvements to the health and safety regulations where they can. "What the results of the working alone process show is that the public needs to put greater pressure on the government to make them give higher priority to worker health and safety." For more information contact: Audrey M. Cormack, President @ 780  499-6530 (cell) 428-9367 (home) Jason Foster, AFL @ 780-1137 (wk) Note: Copies of the Minority Report are available from the AFL at 483-3021.

AFL Officers Endorse Pannu for NDP Leadership

The elected officers of the Alberta Federation of Labour today endorsed Strathcona MLA Raj Pannu's bid for the leadership of the Alberta New Democrats. President Audrey Cormack and Secretary Treasurer Les Steel praised Pannu's leadership and look forward to working with him in the next election. "Raj Pannu has been an articulate and consistent voice of working people in the Alberta legislature," says Cormack. "Albertans are looking for a politician with integrity and principles. They need look no further than Raj." Secretary-Treasurer Les Steel feels that Raj will bring his hard-work and determination to the job as leader. "He stood alone in the legislature during the Bill 11 debate and took on the government. He was effective and strong during that debate. I am confident he will bring the same work ethic to all issues important to Albertans." Cormack and Steel will be presenting the issue of the NDP leadership to the AFL's governing body at its meeting next month. "We suspect our Executive Council will share our support for Raj and the New Democrats," says Cormack. Steel and Cormack point out that in the next election, Albertans will be looking for an alternative to the arrogant Conservative government. "Raj has the skill to get the New Democrat message out," observes Steel. "We are confident and energized about the New Democrats' election hopes under Raj Pannu's leadership. Bring on the election!" Cormack concludes. For further information contact: Audrey Cormack, President     @     483-3021 wk/428-9367 hm/499-6530 cell Les Steel, Secretary Treasurer     @     483-3021 wk/499-4135 cell

Billion Dollar Corporate Tax Cut Shows Government Priorities

The $1 billion tax cut for corporations announced yesterday by the Alberta government exposes the government's real priority is giving money back to corporate friends and not investing in essential programs for Alberta families, says the Alberta Federation of Labour today. The AFL also criticizes the cut as shortsighted and not viable over the long term. "Although some businesses and business organizations have been clamoring for this kind of tax break for years, I believe that they are being very short-sighted," said Cormack. "The corporate sector benefits as much or more than the rest of us from public education, Medicare and all the other public programs and services that create our social and economic infrastructure. Their failure to provide their fair share of tax support will mean either tax increases for the rest of us or a further decline in public services." "$1 billion would go a long way to ensure we finally fix the persistent problems plaguing our health and education systems due to years of cutbacks," adds Cormack. "It would be money better used put into services for families." Cormack also expresses concern that the growing list of tax cuts being tossed around by the Conservatives is not sustainable over the long term. Tax cuts announced in 2000 amount to almost $2.5 billion. "What will happen when the boom goes bust?" asks Cormack. Cormack suspects that when the price of oil drops, as it will eventually do, the Tories' corporate friends won't be interested in tax increases. "That will mean more cuts to people services down the road." Cormack states that large corporations, that are making record profits, should be required to pay more than 8% tax. "Hard working average families will be required to pay 10.5%. Why should some huge corporation making millions in profits only pay 8%? It is unfair." Cormack urges the government to scrap plans for corporate tax breaks and instead wisely invest the money in health, education and other people services. "Responding to the needs of Albertans is what they are elected to do." "This government is going the wrong way in taxation," concluded Cormack. "At their own growth summit, restoring public services was the clear priority - not tax cuts. Now they are cutting corporate taxes and the public education component of property taxes, while doing an inadequate job of funding public programs." For further information contact: Audrey Cormack, President     @     483-3021 wk/428-9367 hm/499-6530 cell

International survey criticizes Alberta labour laws

EDMONTON - The Brussels-based International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) was critical of Alberta labour laws in its annual global survey of labour rights released today. "The ICTFU survey details attacks on labour rights and on individual union leaders in 113 countries," said Alberta Federation of Labour Secretary Treasurer Les Steel. "And there, along with grim examples from countries like Ethiopia, Columbia and Nepal, is Alberta," said Steel. Although Canada only merits one-and-a-half pages in the massive 189 page report, Alberta is singled out for the first third of the Canadian section. (see attached) "The ICFTU specifically condemns the exlcusion of basic labour rights for health care workers in the Alberta Labour Code," noted Steel. "It also criticizes 'excessive government intervention in collective bargaining', the provision of 'ways for the employer to bypass the union as collective bargaining agent', and the lack of automatic certification remedies for the Labour Relations Board." "The attention paid to Alberta in the ICFTU report should be a wake-up call to the Klein government," said Steel. "Our labour laws are an international disgrace." "Workers rights in Alberta clearly need to be strengthened and more effectively enforced," concluded Steel. For more information contact: Les Steel, Secretary Treasurer at (780) 483-3021 or cell (780) 499-4135 Canada: Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights (2000) Cases before the ILO's Committee on Freedom of Association The federal government of Canada and the various provincial governments do not fully accept the trade union rights of public employees and regularly use legislation to restrict them. Alberta Alberta restricts strikes by public hospital employees, including kitchen staff, porters and gardeners. While arbitration is provided to settle labour disputes for public employees, the following are excluded from what can be arbitrated: work organisation, the assignment of duties, the determination of the number of employees, job evaluations, job selection, appointment, promotion, training, transfers and pensions. The law provides lengthy and strict limits and guidelines which arbitrators are bound to follow in deciding awards. In the private sector, Alberta's Labour Relations Code allows excessive government intervention in collective bargaining and provides ways for the employer to bypass the union as collective bargaining agent. The scope for employer interference has made it virtually impossible for workers in the retail and banking sectors to organise against determined opposition from employers. A 1998 revision of the code removed the jurisdiction of the Labour Relations Board to automatically certify a bargaining unit where serious unfair labour practices had been found. In November, after failing to reach a first collective agreement in over one year of negotiations, trade unions representing workers employed at the Calgary Herald newspaper went on strike. Section 88 of the code presumes the use of strike-breakers by the employer and provides that strikers only be given "preference" over strike-breakers in getting their jobs back after a dispute. The strikers must apply in writing with restrictive time limits. The authorities also use injunctions against strikes and strikers, and make excessive use of the police during strikes. Alberta does not allow workers in agriculture and horticulture to organise nor to bargain collectively. New Brunswick New Brunswick is another province that does not allow agricultural and horticultural workers to organise nor to bargain collectively. Manitoba The Manitoba Public Schools Amendment Act of 1997 restricts the powers of interest arbiters in disputes. Newfoundland In Newfoundland, many public sector workers cannot join the union of their choice and the right to strike is restricted in the public service because the employer has broad powers to designate essential services. The provincial government has reported to the ILO that it was establishing an effective procedure for defining essential services. Ontario In Ontario, agricultural workers, domestic workers, architects, dentists, land surveyors, lawyers and doctors are excluded from the legal framework protecting trade union rights. The Ontario Labour Relations and Employment Statute Law Amendments, 1995, excluded these categories of workers from the protection of the Ontario Labour Relations Act and from other statutes regulating collective bargaining for employees in specific sectors. The existing organising rights of these workers were terminated as a result of this law, and collective agreements that were in force were nullified. The same legislation also removed existing protection of trade union recognition and collective agreements for contract service workers, such as cleaning crews, food service workers and security guards, in the event of a sale of business or of a change in contractor. The Savings and Restructuring Act 1996, the Public Sector Transition Stability Act 1997, the Public Sector Dispute Resolution Act, 1997, and the Social Contract Act, 1993 deal with compulsory interest arbitration in specific areas of the public sector. They allow the authorities to interfere in the establishment of labour tribunals and arbitration boards. The Education Quality Improvement Act of 1997 interfered into the collective bargaining of teachers. The 1998 Back to School Act brought strikes and lockouts to an end in secondary schools in eight school board jurisdictions. In 1999, Ontario adopted the Act to Prevent Unionisation with respect to Community Participation under the Ontario Works Act, 1997. This amended the 1997 Ontario Works Act so as to prohibit people taking part in community participation (work-fare - compulsory work as a condition of receiving benefits) from joining unions, bargaining collectively or striking. Saskatchewan The Maintenance of Saskatchewan Power Corporation's Operations Act, 1998, which extended an expired agreement, imposed new wage rates, and took away the right to strike for three years. Federal government The federal government regularly passed back-to-work legislation to end strikes. In March legislation forced striking employees back to work at the federal treasury, and at the Canadian Grain Commission in Vancouver. Throughout the period under review the 1997 Postal Services Continuation Act interfered with collective bargaining in the postal sector. The federal government has recently amended the federal labour code to define activities to be maintained during strikes. Although the change does not expressly prohibit employers from using replacement workers during strikes, it only bans them where the aim is to undermine a union's representational capacity.

Federation preparing to launch new phase of Worker Literacy Project

The Alberta Federation of Labour is set to undertake a new phase of their Worker Literacy Project. Cormack, President of the AFL resolves that "we will continue training workplace literacy trainers so that we can shift our focus to the actual delivery of literacy programs in the workplace and on job sites." "The link between literacy and the labour movement has never been stronger," says Cormack, in marking September 8th as International Literacy Day. "When 45% of all new jobs created in this decade require 16 years of education, there is a definite need for literacy programs in the workplace. Literacy IS a labour issue." According to the International Adult Literacy Survey conducted by Statistics Canada and OECD and released in June 2000, literacy is linked to economic success. Findings showed that literacy levels determine what kinds of jobs people find, the salaries they make and their ability to upgrade their skills. "The skills workers need to compete in an ever-changing labour market include communication and leadership skills. It is not good enough to just promote literacy, we need to provide workers with ongoing training in reading and writing, paired with a focus on technology," says Cormack. In 1991, the AFL began work on a Worker Literacy Project. The multi-phase project, made possible through funding from the National Literacy Secretariat, involved a survey of affiliated members, whose findings and recommendations were compiled in a report called the "Worker Literacy Initiative Project." President Cormack notes that "when we first embarked on this project in 1991, of the average 14 hours of training Canadian companies provided for their employees, only 2% was literacy training. Our government was spending only 0.5% of our GDP on employment and training programs. Something needed to be done to combat the problem of illiteracy in the workplace." The second phase of the project, started in 1998, focused on literacy awareness and education within the labour movement. This included training labour educators in supportive literacy strategies, and developing literacy modules to be presented at yearly labour schools. "It has been almost 10 years since we first started the Worker Literacy Project. We have the research, we have developed the workshops, and literacy trainers have been trained. It's time to move into action and get out to the people it impacts - the workers," says Cormack. "When we provide workers with the literacy training they need to be effective in their jobs, we have also provided them with the skills, knowledge and experience they will need to become empowered as individuals and within their communities," says Cormack. "In the end, everyone benefits." For more information contact: Audrey M. Cormack, President  at  cell (780) 499-6530