EDMONTON - The time has come for the federal government to stop dragging its feet on the issue of pay equity for public employees, says Audrey Cormack, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
Cormack says a decision handed down this afternoon by the Federal Court reinforces the need for sweeping changes in the way the federal government pays its employees. It also underscores the need to compensate thousands of employees for years of discriminatory pay practices.
In a written judgement, Justice J. Evans of the Federal Court rejected a federal government appeal of a landmark pay-equity decision made last year by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal.
In July 1998, the Tribunal ruled that the federal government had, for years, been underpaying thousands of employees working in female-dominated job classifications. To remedy the situation, the Tribunal ordered the government to give 13 years of back pay to almost 200,000 current and former employees - most of whom are women.
"These women have waited long enough for fairness," said Cormack, pointing out that the complaint that started the whole debate on pay equity was originally filed with the Human Rights Tribunal in 1985. "Fourteen years is a long time. Now that the Federal Court has upheld the Tribunal's decision, the government should do the right thing and give these workers what they are owed."
Cormack acknowledged that the government could still appeal the decision to the Federal Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court. But she said further appeals would benefit no one.
"There is absolutely no doubt that the Human Rights Tribunal's decision was the right one - both morally and legally - so any appeal to the Federal Court of Appeals or the Supreme Court would simply be a further waste of taxpayers money," said Cormack. "With this in mind, we are calling on the federal government to procedure with the implementation of the Tribunal's decision without further delay. People like Prime Minister Chretien and Treasury Board President Lucienne Robillard should remember that old saying: 'justice delayed is justice denied.' In this case, we think that justice has already been denied for too long."
For more information call:
Audrey Cormack, President: 780-483-3021 (wk) / 780-499-6530 (cell) / 780-428-9367 (hm)
EDMONTON - Starting October 1, Albertans earning the minimum wage will see a slight boost in their earnings - but the increase offers little cause for real celebration, says the president of Alberta's largest labour organization.
"Alberta may no longer have the lowest minimum wage in the country," says Audrey Cormack, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour. "But it's still not nearly enough to make ends meet. The sad truth is that our minimum wage is still a poverty wage."
Alberta's minimum wage has been increased in three stage over the past year - from $5.00 to $5.40 per hour on October 1, 1998; from $5.40 to $5.65 on April 1, 1999; and finally from $5.65 to $5.90 on October 1, 1999.
As a result of the changes, Alberta has moved ahead of the four Maritime Provinces in terms of provincial minimum wage levels. But Alberta still lags far behind B.C., Quebec and Ontario where the minimum wages are $7.15, $6.90 and $6.85 respectively.
Cormack points out that Alberta's new minimum wage is still not high enough to keep low-wage workers out of poverty. According to Statistics Canada, an individual living in Edmonton or Calgary would have to earn about $17,500 per year in order to live above the poverty line.
"Even with the latest increase, minimum wage earners working full-time and year round would only earn about 70 per cent of the amount necessary to stay out of poverty," says Cormack. "There is something seriously wrong with this picture. The minimum wage should be high enough to allow people to live with dignity."
Another major problem with the Klein government's approach to the minimum wage is that they have failed to put in place any mechanisms to adjust the wage for inflation, says Cormack.
She points out that between 1977 and 1997; the real value of Alberta's minimum wage dropped by more than 40 per cent. This was the direct result of the government's refusal to introduce regular increases that compensated for inflation, she says.
"One time increases to the minimum wage will not solve the problem," says Cormack. "What we really need is a system that makes regular adjustments for inflation. This is crucial because a wage that keeps people out of poverty today may not be enough to keep them out of poverty in the future. If the government doesn't recognize this problem and institute some kind of system for regular adjustments, then we're going to be right back where we started five or ten years from now."
For more information call:
Audery Cormack, AFL President: 483-3021 (wk) 499-6530 (cell) 428-9367 (home)
CALGARY - In the turbulent workplace of the 1990s, workers in Alberta need the kind of protection that unions provide more than ever.
That was the central message of a research report released today at the Alberta Federation of Labour's biennial convention, being held this week in Calgary.
The report - called Now More Than Ever - examines the challenges and opportunities facing the Alberta labour movement as it prepares to enter the 21st century.
"Some of our critics argue that unions are relics of the past and that we have been rendered obsolete by the so-called global economy," said AFL president Audrey Cormack. "But what this report shows is that Albertans still want and need unions. In fact, in the dog-eat-dog labour market of the 21st century, workers will probably need unions more than ever."
Highlights of the AFL report include the following:
- Despite declining union membership south of the border, union membership in Canada has remained stable and strong. One in four Alberta workers are currently covered by union-negotiated contracts.
- Union membership in Alberta climbed from 253,000 in 1997 to 286,5000 in 1998. That represents an annual increase of six percent.
- Many non-union workers want to join unions. A recent survey of Alberta high school and university graduates shows that about 30 percent would join a union if they had the chance. Another 40 percent would be at least open to the idea. These findings are consistent with other surveys conducted in Alberta and across the country.
- The average wage for workers paid by hour in Alberta is 11 percent lower today than in 1983, once inflation is taken into account. At the same time, the gap between the wages earned by men and women is wider in Alberta than any other province. This suggests that many Alberta workers could benefit from union representation.
- Union members get paid more than non-union workers. On average union workers earn $18/hr versus an average of only $14/hr for non-union workers. This translates into a union wage advantage of about 30 percent. Union members are also more likely to have "non-wage" benefits like pensions, dental plans and paid sick leave. Eighty-two percent of union members have a pension versus only 33 percent of non-union workers.
- Despite criticisms from the business community, studies show that unions can actually improve the productivity of firms. Some of Alberta's most prominent and profitable firms have highly unionized workforces. For example: Suncor, Imperial Oil (refineries), Petro-Canada (refineries), Telus, Luscar, Weldwood, Safeway, Celanese and Sherritt.
"This is a good news report," says Cormack. "It shows that unions still have an important role to play in Alberta. We face many challenges as we head into the next century. But based on the findings of this report, I'm confident that the labour movement will be around for a long time to come. And I'm confident that we will continue our proud tradition of fighting for improved conditions in the workplace and in the broader community."
For more information call:
Gil McGowan, AFL Communications: (403) 508-5129 (office) or (780) 910-1137 (cell)
Audrey Cormack, AFL President: (780) 499-6530 (cell)
In the next twenty pages, we will provide an update of the economic "snapshot" presented in Crumbs From the Table. We will re-examine issues like individual and family income, public services and job quality. Most importantly, we will attempt to determine whether or not ordinary Albertans are benefiting any more from their province's ongoing prosperity-
in the form of increased wages, better services or improved job security-than they did last year.
A report card on jobs, wages and economic security in Alberta (March 1997)