More than 50,000 Albertans work in the agricultural sector. They account for 2.6 per cent of our workforce — and until this legislation was introduced, they had few legal protections in their workplace. One in five agricultural workers in Alberta work at worksites with more than 20 employees.Read more
Deal bad for Canadian workers, great for foreign corporate giants
On International Women’s Day, the Premier of Alberta is framing his election campaign around an attack on women’s hard-earned equality gains
Edmonton – The Alberta Federation of Labour is marking International Women’s Day by standing up for women’s jobs and equality gains in the public sector.
The majority of Alberta’s public sector workers – those who work in health care, education, in cities and towns, seniors’ care – are women.
“The Prentice PCs are gearing up for a multi-million-dollar election campaign that targets women’s modest wage gains in the public sector,” Alberta Federation of Labour Secretary Treasurer Siobhan Vipond said. “When Jim Prentice talks about health care, education, and public service workers, he is talking about women. When Jim Prentice blames public sector workers for his government’s appalling record of tax and royalty giveaways, what he is really doing is blaming Alberta women—who earn just 63 per cent of what men earn—for his government’s reckless tax and royalty giveaways.”
An AFL analysis of public sector wage settlements in Alberta, released for International Women’s Day, showed public sector wage settlements between 2011-2014 delivered a modest 8.8 per cent of cumulative increases. The majority of the workers covered by these collective agreements were women.
By contrast, Alberta’s oil and gas sector workers saw a 17 per cent increase in their average weekly earnings between 2011-2014. Construction workers saw a 14 per cent gain. Managers of companies also saw a 17 per cent gain, while those in finance saw a 13 per cent increase in their annual earnings.
Vipond says Alberta women benefit from a wage advantage in the unionized public sector. But economy-wide, Alberta is the most unequal province in Canada. “When Alberta women look in the mirror, they see the highest levels of inequality in Canada,” Vipond said.
“The unions that represent women in the public sector have delivered pay equity, modest but reliable pensions, and health and safety protections,” Vipond said. “When we struggle for dignity and fairness in the workplace, women are the beneficiaries.”
Fifty-five per cent of Alberta’s overall unionized workforce, in both the public and private sectors, are women.
The Alberta Federation of Labour advocates that:
- Alberta remains the only jurisdiction in Canada without a voice for women in government. Alberta should establish a free-standing Status of Women ministry.
- Alberta has among the lowest number of child care spots and the highest child care fees in Canada. Public early childhood education and child care must be a priority if Alberta is to achieve better wage equality and educational outcomes for children
Olav Rokne, Communications Director, Alberta Federation of Labour at 780.218.4351 (cell) or via e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Alberta remains one of the most dangerous places in Canada to work, especially for young workers: AFL
Edmonton – The Alberta Federation of Labour is responding to Saturday’s death of a 15-year-old worker.
Alberta’s child, youth, and adolescent labour laws are among the worst in Canada, says the AFL. The province had a chance to toughen up those standards in a recent Employment Standards review, but nothing came of it.
“Alberta’s child labour laws are among the most lax in Canada,” says Siobhan Vipond, AFL Secretary Treasurer. “The AFL has repeatedly made recommendations to improve working conditions and safety standards, specifically for young workers. This weekend’s tragic news is yet another reminder that much more needs to be done to keep Albertans safe at work.”
“Just a few months ago, Employment Minister Thomas Lukaszuk launched a review of Alberta’s workplace laws. But the first item up for review was a question about expanding child labour,” says Vipond. “Instead of rushing more young workers onto potentially unsafe work sites, we need to keep young workers safe. Today, Alberta is one of the most unsafe places for young people to work.”
The AFL’s submission on April 11, 2014 to the Employment Standards contained several pages of recommendations on young workers.
"Alberta needs targeted inspections of workplaces that employ 15-17 year olds, especially in construction and other comparatively dangerous occupations,” says Vipond. “The AFL made urgent recommendations earlier this year, and this past weekend we are sadly reminded why these changes are so desperately needed in Alberta.”
A recent survey showed 49.7% of 797 adolescents surveyed had experienced at least one workplace injury in the previous year.
For 15-17 year olds, the research has shown young, minor workers are particularly vulnerable to abuses in the workplace, such as illegal deductions, unsafe work, handling of hazardous materials, and sexual harassment.
For that reason, the AFL recommended a program of targeted inspections and a special, mandated health and safety training programme for employers who hire 15-17 year old Albertans. Alberta must also review whether some industrial activities or occupations are prohibited for adolescents, particularly in forklift operations and construction work.
Brad Lafortune, Alberta Federation of Labour at 780.901.1177 (cell)
or via e-mail email@example.com
May 2013: Alberta embracing The Better Way Campaign; 19th Annual Kids' Camp; AFL wins battle in fight against exploitation of Temporary Foreign Workers; Convention videos online at AFL Yo...
Urgent Action: Alberta embracing The Better Way Campaign
Since April 1, moviegoers all over Alberta have been getting a message on the Better Way Alberta campaign. The message, in which Albertans are "thanked" for giving away their oil and gas so cheaply, has been shown before every movie on 188 screens.
The Better Way Alberta campaign is a collaboration between the AFL and several member unions including HSAA, UNA and CUPE. Advertising, media and our website www.betterwayalberta.com all make the case for sensible budgeting that puts the best interest of people first, and includes research showing that royalties and taxes may need to be increased.
Check out the Better Way Alberta ad
Action Item: 19th Annual Kids' Camp
The AFL Kids' Camp is a five-day event that combines summer fun with educational activities.
The camp, which has been running for 19 years, has become a popular event on the AFL calendar. In 2013, the camp will be themed around the history of labour in Canada.
The camp is open to children of trade unionists belonging to unions affiliated to the Alberta Federation of Labour. Learning is combined with recreational activities such as canoeing, wall climbing, hiking, mine tour, rappelling, group challenges, crafts and swimming.
When: August 5 – 9, 2013
Where: Goldeye Centre near Nordegg on Goldeye Lake
Ages: 8 to 15 years
Forms package to be completed and mailed/faxed to the AFL offices by June 14, 2013
AFL wins battle in fight against exploitation of Temporary Foreign Workers
Recently announced changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker program are a victory for Canadian labour rights.
The Federal government has eliminated the pay differential for TFWs, and indefinitely suspended the fast-track ALMO process for bringing in workers.
Although there is a lot of work left to be done in preventing employers from exploiting people coming to Canada for work, the Alberta Federation of Labour is proud that it has played a key role in bringing to light the ways in which the TFW program is being used to exploit workers and drive down wages.
"Exploitation is fundamentally unCanadian, that's why t this program doesn't sit well with Canadians," AFL president Gil McGowan said. "I'm proud of the work the AFL has done in investigating the TFW program, and proud as a Canadian that the public in this country won't stand for how this program is being used."
The AFL released the latest in a series of reports on the Temporary Foreign Worker program recently, showing that workers are being brought in regardless of prevailing economic conditions. During the recession, Alberta lost tens of thousands of jobs. Yet, employers brought in tens of thousands of Temporary Foreign Workers. In 2011, the economy recovered and began creating jobs. But there was a Temporary Foreign Worker present in Alberta for three of every four jobs created.
Convention videos online at AFL Youtube channelIf you missed it the first time, you can watch highlights from Alberta Federation of Labour's 48th constitutional convention on the internet.
For the first time, the proceedings have been made available to watch at the federation's youtube channel (youtube.com/ABFedLabour). Talks by speakers such as Allan Gregg, Jim Stanford, and Armine Yalnizyan have already been watched by hundreds of AFL affiliates and allies from as far away as California.
More than 7,000 people have already watched the videos, which were produced with the assistance of United Nurses videographer Jeremy Rittwage and the team from Listen Louder Productions. Videos that feature convention delegates being interviewed about what their unions mean to them are generating upwards of 300.
"There was a focused effort to make this convention relevant to people who couldn't be there in person," AFL president Gil McGowan said. "I'm proud to say that we accomplished that. The feedback from the videos has been extremely positive."
AFL offers solidarity to prison workers in struggle for workplace safetyThe Alberta Federation of Labour has raised concerns about the province's handling of a four-day wildcat strike by unionized employees of Alberta's prison system. The four-day strike was sparked by the government's refusal to address health and safety concerns at the new Remand Centre in Edmonton.
After the strike, the government has imposed fines of $450,000, and has sought to suspend the collection of union dues to the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees. Although the AUPE is not affiliated with the AFL, the government's draconian response has raised concern in the broader labour movement about the treatment workers can expect from the provincial Tories.
"Every crisis presents opportunities and this situation is no different. The government could have addressed the workers' legitimate safety concerns in a timely and balanced manner. This would have improved the important relationship between a government and these workers," AFL president Gil McGowan said. "But that opportunity has been squandered by threats, intimidation and now specter of punitive measures against the union. As a result, labour relations are worse now than they were before the strike."
BLOCK the PARTYAlbertans are standing together for a BLOCK (the) PARTY rally from 12-2 p.m. on May 25th to create a block against the policies and recent budget cuts that negatively impact families, the most vulnerable, and all sectors in Alberta.
The rally will be held at 45th Avenue between Gateway Boulevard and Calgary Trail S, just north of the Radisson Hotel, where the Conservative Party will be holding their policy convention.
Come together with other Albertans by the busloads and help us remind our leaders that there is a Better Way!
Did you know ...
• In 2007, Alberta's Royalty Review panel ruled that the province's rate of 58% for natural gas was too low. Today, the rate is 34%.
• Royalty giveaways since 2009 have cost Albertans at least $4.7 billion.
• Three of every four new jobs created in Alberta since 2010 have been filled by workers brought in under the Temporary Foreign Worker program.
• May 22: Shooting the Messenger: The Need for Effective Whistleblower Protection in Alberta, (Parkland) – 7:00 PM Telus Centre, Room 134 U of A (87th Avenue)
• May 23-26: Canadian Association of Labour Media conference (calm.ca/conference)
• June 10-11: AFL Executive Council Retreat (Calgary)
• June 12: AFL Executive Council (Calgary)
• June 14: Deadline to register for AFL Kids Camp
CALGARY - Alberta business groups say a rejigged skills training program included in the most recent federal budget could offer some relief for the province's tight labour market.
Travis Davies of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers says connecting the right workers with the right jobs is a "huge challenge" in the oilpatch, where skilled tradespeople such as pipefitters and plumbers are in high demand.
"To the degree that you can get support from both the federal government and the provincial government, it's very positive," he said.
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty made skills training a centrepiece of the 2013-14 budget with the Canada Job Grant.
Ottawa, provincial governments and employers would each shoulder a third of the $15,000 training grant, which is expected to come into effect about a year from now.
Ottawa still needs to get the provinces on side with the plan, and Quebec and Ontario have already expressed misgivings.
But in the West, where unemployment rates are very low, the idea is being embraced.
The man in charge of recruitment at oil producer Cenovus Energy Inc. (TSX:CVE) called the announcement "exciting."
"I think it provides an opportunity and incentive for all appropriate stakeholders to work more closely together," he said.
"I think it's important to recognize that this is a piece of the puzzle. It's not something that was announced to be the ultimate solution."
Ben Brunnen, chief economist at the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, called the job grant a "great first step" that is "key to helping to alleviate the labour challenges."
"What that does is it ensures that the provinces and the federal government and employers get together at the same table to make sure they get the right people with the right skills in the right job."
The labour tightness is not restricted to Alberta's all-important oil and gas industry, Brunnen said. The tourism and hospitality industries, for instance, are also having a tough time.
"It definitely permeates across the Alberta economy," he said. "There are particular occupations under pressure in Alberta that are confronted with relatively chronic shortages and increasingly, employers have been focusing on overseas and immigrants as solutions to the labour challenges."
Brunnen said the chamber also likes that there will be more of a focus on attracting talent within Canada than from overseas.
"That's been the big issue for employers — yes, there might be some Canadians that are unemployed but they just don't have the skills that we're looking for."
However, there are challenges in attracting workers to Alberta that don't have to do with training, Brunnen conceded.
"A lot of the demand for the energy sector is happening in the field, in the oilpatch. Those are in locations that are sometimes a little bit difficult to work in, or are sometimes a little bit remote."
Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, said the government's job training promises amount to a "fraud" so long as the temporary foreign worker program is an option.
The budget did include some new rules making it harder for employers to rely on the temporary foreign worker program.
"Employers in this country are not going to train workers aggressively as long as they have the option to use cheap, exploitable workers through the Temporary Foreign Worker program," said McGowan.
"We'll never have a system that actually promotes the training of the next generation of skilled trades as long as the temporary foreign worker program is continuously expanded, which is exactly what we've been seeing with the Harper government over the last five years."
Victoria Times Colonist, Friday, Mar. 22, 2013
Byline: Lauren Krugel, Canadian Press
EDMONTON - In a show of unity, nurses, teachers and labour groups joined Monday to condemn "Klein-style cuts" they say are coming to public services in Thursday's provincial budget.
Premier Alison Redford was elected for her "progressive" Conservative agenda, but she is betraying those promises with a "slash and burn" budget rather than moving ahead with tax reforms to cover the deficit, Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour. told a news conference.
"The (budget) will be Klein light and this is not what Albertans thought they were getting when they voted for Alison Redford as opposed to the Wildrose party,'' McGowan said.
Five of the biggest public sector unions — the Alberta Teachers' Association, Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, United Nurses of Alberta, the Health Sciences Association and the Canadian Union of Public Employees — also released polling data showing that most people do not want to see public service cuts and instead favour some kind of tax reform — higher royalties or a return to progressive income tax — to reduce the red ink in the budget.
A deficit of $4 billion is expected at the end of this fiscal year as energy revenues plunged by an estimated $6 billion due to low bitumen prices.
The unions also took aim at the comments from conservative lobby groups like the Fraser Institute that Alberta has the highest per capita spending of all provinces and that spending is out of control.
Alberta is the middle of the pack, spending about $10,623 per person while Newfoundland is at the top with spending of $12,029 per person, and Ontario and Quebec are lowest at $9,359 and $8,800 respectively, McGowan said. The AFL research is based on provincial budget documents across the country.
Alberta also has the second lowest number of government workers per capita, he. Ontario has the lowest and Prince Edward Island has the highest number of civil servants per capita.
"So we are wealthy like Saudi Arabia and spending like New Brunswick," McGowan said.
Late last month, Redford announced a three-year wage freeze for managers in the civil service and plans to cut their ranks by 10 per cent — more than 400 jobs — as she struggles to rein in spending.
For education, even a freeze in funding would amount to a cut because 12,000 more students are expected to enter the school system this year and have to be accommodated, ATA vice-president Mark Ramsankar said.
"Redford promised stable, long-term funding and full day kindergarten, but it's not clear either of those promises will be delivered," Ramsankar said.
The union, which is currently in bargaining, also fears the province will axe the professional development fund.
Former premier Ralph Klein used a strategy of creating a climate of crisis around government deficits and unions vowed not to succumb to that again.
"My message to Redford is don't panic," said Heather Smith, president of UNA. "This is a revenue problem, not a spending problem, and you are prescribing the wrong treatment."
"Albertans believed they were not electing a Wildrose-policy government. If that's what they are going to get, I've heard many are wondering if should vote for them."
UNA's contract ends at the end of March. AUPE also begins bargaining this spring.
The poll done by Environics Research Group in February shows that 72 per cent of Albertans favour going back to progressive income tax, and 78 per cent supported increasing taxes paid by corporations and high income earners.
In the poll, 71 per cent agreed with the statement that Albertans are not getting their fair share of royalty revenue — though the number fell to 64 per cent in Calgary Calgary.
The poll of 1,014 people is accurate to plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.
McGowan said Redford is blaming the "bitumen bubble" though the real problem is the government does not raise enough revenue to pay for services.
"Redford should fix the revenue hole. That's what she was elected to do. If it is not betrayal (of promises), it is close to betrayal."
The Edmonton Journal, Monday, Mar. 04, 2013
Byline: Sheila Pratt
Suncor Energy's attempt to randomly test thousands of its oilsands workers for drugs and alcohol is back under scrutiny as proceedings began again this week.
Arguments are being heard in a labour arbitration in Calgary, with proceedings between Suncor Energy Inc. and the Communications, Energy, and Paperworkers union Local 707 that represents 3,4000 workers, the Globe and Mail reports.
Last November, Alberta's top court dismissed an appeal by Suncor Energy over its plan to randomly test thousands of its oilsands workers for drugs and alcohol.
Justice Jean Cote spoke for the majority at the time, calling Suncor's plans "a significant breach of worker's rights," while upholding an injunction that would prohibit the company from testing employees without cause.
New Brunswick's Irving Pulp and Paper is also looking to randomly test employees for alcohol as its mill operations , with the case reaching the Supreme Court of Canada, according to the CBC.
The outcome of these high-profile cases may determine if such testing expands to other workplaces in Canada, CBC adds.
Substance abuse among workers is already a concern in Alberta's oil and gas industry, as workers are exposed to heavy machinery. According to the Globe and Mail, Alberta's courts have been much more likely to allow drug and alcohol testing than in Canada's Eastern and Maritime provinces.
The union argued last year that random testing is an affront to basic human rights, and the Alberta Federation of Labour called the court decision a victory.
"Employers like drug testing programs because they give the impression that something decisive is being done about safety," Federation president Gil McGowan said in a news release at the time.
"But these programs don't improve safety. Employers know that, so it's little more than very expensive public relations."
Suncor spokeswoman Sneh Seetal said that the oilsands giant was disappointed in the court's ruling.
"We know alcohol and drugs are a pressing safety concern at our Wood Buffalo sites and we will present evidence to support this during the arbitration process."
She said three of the seven workers who died while on the job at Suncor's site since 2000 were under the influence of alcohol or drugs at the time.
"Our view is one fatality is too many."
The union has agreed to certain types of drug testing in its collective agreement, including pre-employment screening and with-cause drug testing, and says there is no evidence that random drug testing makes workplaces safer.
The Huffington Post Alberta, Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013
With files from CP
Hoping to quickly close Canada's growing labour gap of tradespeople, federal Immigration Minister Jason Kenney has unveiled a new plan that would quickly turn skilled foreign workers into permanent Canadian residents.
Kenney says the Skilled Trades Stream will help fill a serious labour shortage caused by Canada's growing natural resource economy, particularly in the oilsands and remote areas of the country. The program will only admit a maximum of 3,000 people to avoid backlogs. Applications will be accepted after Jan. 2, 2013.
"For too long, Canada's immigration system has not been open to these in-demand skilled workers," said Kenney. "These changes are long overdue and will help us move to a fast and flexible immigration system that works for Canada's economy."
Applicants will not have to meet the criteria of the points system that is already used for prospective immigrants or other skilled foreign workers.
Instead, the new program will consider applicants who have a job offer in Canada, have a basic proficiency in English or French, can prove they have experience in an in-demand trade. They must also show that their occupation qualifies as a trade under federal regulations.
The need for skilled tradespeople is most dire in Alberta, where the province estimates that it will need an additional 115,000 skilled tradesworkers over the next 10 years.
A spokesperson with the Alberta Federation of Labour said the program will help the province's economic growing pains. However, the AFL is still concerned about employment protection for low-skilled foreign workers already operating in Canada.
Fort McMurray Today, Tues Dec 11 2012
— Today staff
Critics say the Lobbyist Act has no teeth
Alberta Ethics Commissioner Neil Wilkinson's 2012 annual report, released November 19, has nothing but enthusiasm for the work of his office and the success of the two laws that control it, the Conflicts of Interest Act and Lobbyists Act.
"It continues to be an unqualified success in achieving the public policy expectations set out in the Lobbyists Act," Wilkinson writes. Lobbyist Act registrar Bradley Odsen concurs in the report, "2011/12 has been a year of considerable accomplishment, particularly relating to enhancing the profile of the office and the registry."
However, recent concerns raised by the media and in the legislature by members of all three opposition parties suggest that "success" does need to be qualified. Most notably, questions about a $430,000 campaign donation to the Progressive Conservative Party from Daryl Katz, the owner of the Edmonton Oilers and president of the Katz Group, and his own campaign to secure provincial funding for an area expansion, have plagued the government in recent weeks.
Though Katz himself is not a registered lobbyist, opposition parties argue his political donations, combined with "chats" he is known to have had with Premier Alison Redford and Finance Minister Doug Horner at social events, clearly amount to lobbying.
Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman and NDP MLA Rachel Notley were both members of the committee charged with reviewing the Lobbyist Act in 2011. The committee on the whole decided the only change it would make to the act was to include "prep time" in the 100 hours of lobbying work a person must do to legally be considered a lobbyist. Blakeman and Notley filed a minority report calling for an additional six changes in order to close loopholes they feared would inevitably lead to ethical abuses by those seeking to influence government decisions.
Those suggestions include empowering the lobbyist registrar to force a government official to report contact with a lobbyist, reducing the 100-hour threshold to 50 hours, removing the ability of a lobbyist to lobby a government department at the same time as they or their company is contracted to work in that department, and allowing the registrar to respond publicly to a complainant. Those recommendations were all rejected by the committee, a majority of which was made up of Conservative MLAs.
"I really knew my stuff in that committee, and everyone else admitted it," says Blakeman. "Nonetheless when they [presented the recommendations to] their caucus, they would come marching back in lockstep and vote 'no' to stuff the day before they'd agreed actually I had a really good point on."
"In terms of the Lobbyists Act itself, I mean that's one part of a very large puzzle, all of which comes together to make the most secretive government in the country," says Notley.
Notley describes meetings in 2011 with the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers as an example of the ways lobbying escapes detection.
"We became aware that CAPP and the government were working together on coming up with a communications strategy around fracking to convince people that it was all safe and everything. We were told that we didn't actually need to have that kind of thing reported because they were invited there by the government," she says. Not having to register as a lobbyist or report a meeting with corporate representatives when the meeting is arranged by a cabinet member is "a huge, huge exemption," Notley says.
The Lobbyist Registry currently contains 279 registrations. The top four subjects lobbyists seek to influence the government on are the environment, with 144 lobbyists; energy, with 142; finance, with 124; and health, with 115. Social programs appear to be of the least concern, with only 18 lobbyists registered to press that subject.
Odsen has no support staff to help him review the registry applications sent in by lobbyists. The law does not ask Odsen or anybody else to regulate the information he receives from lobbyists; rather it is up to registrants to ensure what they give him is accurate.
"When an application to register comes in, I try to [ensure to] the best of my ability that it's the proper person that's applying to register as a lobbyist and is providing the correct information in that regard.... I don't follow up on each one to see whether or not it's happening. They certify that's what's happening," he says.
He also says lobbyists understand and support the registry a great deal.
"They have no objections whatsoever to this, they support it because I think in large part an awful lot of the negativity surrounding the notion of lobbying in the public mind is that it's this stuff that goes on behind closed doors.... Professional lobbyists are proud of what they do, they provide an important service," Odsen says.
Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan is a registered lobbyist who says he has quite a few objections to the registry.
"It's better to have a lobbyist registry than not, but here in Alberta it's a pretty toothless tiger. In fact it's verging on useless because it gives you the name of an individual, the name of the organization that they're representing, and then some really vague information about the subjects that they're lobbying on," McGowan says. "After working with the lobbyist registry for the last year or two, it seems to me that the registry is more about giving the appearance of transparency and accountability than actually guaranteeing transparency and accountability."
He says that based on his experiences, and recent allegations about the ethical misconduct of various government officials, he believes the government deliberately shelters its supporters and punishes its detractors.
"For example, our federation had its wrists slapped by the lobbyists registry, not for breaching the act, but for raising concerns about the act. And I got a very stern talking to. In fact, I was told that I had to come and meet with the registrar and receive a lecture about proper decorum when dealing with the registry," he says, referring to an incident in 2011 when the AFL accused CAPP representatives of failing to register as lobbyists when discussing a joint communications plan around fracking. The same meetings also highlighted by Notley. The ensuing investigation by the ethics commissioner ruled that CAPP was not lobbying the government and, therefore, the act did not apply. It went on to say that the CAPP representatives did not work for CAPP and that the government instigated the conversation, again negating the requirements of the Lobbyists Act.
The Lobbyists Act is not up for review again until 2015. Notley says the government can change it of its own volition, otherwise nothing will happen. She and Blakeman are on the committee currently reviewing the Conflict of Interest Act, the second law which governs the ethics commissioner. Both are skeptical about the review making changes in the genuine interest of transparency and accountability.Fast Forward Weekly News, November 29, 2012
Byline: Suzy Thompson