Reopening Alberta needs to be about worker safety, not corporate profits

AFL will release 10 conditions for safely reopening the Alberta economy

CALGARY – As the Kenney government makes plans to reopen the Alberta economy it’s imperative that they revisit their failed approach to workplace health and safety, says Alberta’s largest worker advocacy organization.

“After nearly two months of lock down, many Albertans, including many of our members, want to get back to work,” said Gil McGowan president of the Alberta Federation of Labour. “However, pandemic restrictions should not be lifted and Albertans should not be allowed to return to work until the safety of workers and the public can be guaranteed.”

Unfortunately, McGowan says the Kenney government has a huge blind spot when it comes to workplace health and safety. It’s a blind spot that has created a situation in which more than 40 per cent of Alberta’s COVID-19 cases are directly or indirectly related to workplace exposures.

“If the Kenney government can’t keep workers who have been deemed essential safe, how can we have confidence they’ll be able to keep other Albertans safe as they go back to work?” asks McGowan. “We can’t allow what’s happening at Cargill and JBS to happen in other workplaces around the province. But that’s exactly what we fear will happen if the Kenney government doesn’t clean up its act when it comes to workplace health and safety.”

In an effort to keep working Albertans safe and stop a second wave of infection, the AFL and its 29 affiliated unions have released a statement proposing 10 conditions for lifting the lock down restrictions safely.

The first step includes listening to workers and unions because those are the people risking their safety and they know their workplaces best. The list of conditions also includes bringing back and using workplace health and safety committees and representatives to all Alberta worksites and a more proactive approach by taking the “precautionary principle,” having regular inspections and ending the practice of having businesses self-regulate.

“We are particularly concerned that the UCP government has, so far, failed to look at the COVID-19 pandemic through the lens of workplace health and safety,” said McGowan. “From our perspective, the Alberta government’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis in Alberta workplaces has been a failure. That failure has to be addressed before we can safely reopen our economy.”

The statement also calls for robust enforcement and prosecution for employers who are not following the rules.

“We are also calling on the government to prosecute employers who are putting workers’ health at risk and not following best practices when it comes to occupational health and safety related to COVID-19. The Chief Medical Officer of Health says there has to be information, collaboration and supports if we’re going to keep workers safe. That’s true. But there also have to be consequences,” concluded McGowan.

Read the AFL Statement on Workplace Health and Safety as the Alberta Government Considers Reopening the Economy here.

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