EDMONTON - Alberta is to raise its general minimum wage to $9.75 per hour on Sept. 1.
The 35-cent increase will mean the province will have the second lowest rate in Canada.
The minimum wage for people who serve liquor will remain at $9.05.
The Alberta government is trying to put its minimum wage in a positive light, saying when you factor in the province's tax rates, it is the second highest rate in Canada.
But the Alberta Federation of Labour says that statement is twisting the truth, noting the province has one of the highest cost of living in the country.
Nunavut's general minimum wage of $11.00 per hour is the highest in Canada, while Saskatchewan's rate of $9.50 is the lowest.
660news, Thurs May 31 2012
'After tax' line attempts to paint province's ultra-low minimum wage
as ranking "second in Canada"
EDMONTON – Members of the government of Alberta should be ashamed of themselves for attempting to spin the province's proposed new minimum wage as the second highest in Canada when the reality is it will be the second lowest.
"The government is twisting the truth," says McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour. "The fact is that Alberta presently has the lowest minimum wage in Canada. After the province's minimum wages increase in September, we'll have the second lowest minimum wage in the country after Saskatchewan.
McGowan noted that minimum wages act as a benchmark for other minimum-wage earners. A low general minimum wage will keep other wages at the low end of the spectrum.
"Alberta's cost of living is amongst the highest in the country. By most accounts, we're heading into another boom period where the costs of essentials will increase. Working Albertans need a living wage, one that will allow them to earn enough to keep their heads above water."
For more information call: Gil McGowan, President @ 780-218-9888 (cell)Click here for Backgrounder
It's not a good time to be organized labour, or most types of labour, in Canada.
And I'd define "time" as the period when Stephen Harper is Prime Minister of Canada. It began as a minor concern back in 1996 and seems likely to continue at least until the Tories' year-old majority in Parliament faces an election in or around 2015.
A booming economy in the West has unemployment at 7.3 per cent nationally, so it's not the dark days of labour strife in the 1970s and early '80s. Regardless, unions are battling the Harper government over their right to strike while the Conservatives legislate changes that raise the retirement age and restrict employment insurance benefits.
Ottawa also just repealed - deep within the omnibus, and/or ominous, 452-page 2012 budget - a relatively obscure but significant piece of legislation called the Fair Wages and Hours of Labour Act. Depending on your personal politics, it's either music to your ears or a funeral dirge.
"Connect the dots," says Gil McGowan, the president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
"This is not just a war on unions. It's an attack on all working people in Canada to fundamentally change the labour market in ways that benefit employers.''
Others, like Canadian Chamber of Commerce president Perrin Beatty, applaud the fact Ottawa is moving to address the persistent labour shortages in the western provinces and he urges more action to resolve "the No. 1 issue" for business in the country.
A number of events have pushed labour issues to the forefront of the policy agenda.
On Monday, Labour Minister Lisa Raitt introduced back-to-work legislation to bring an end to a strike by 4,800 workers at Calgary-based Canadian Pacific Railway.
Earlier, Human Resources Minister Diane Finley announced Employment Insurance benefits would be scaled back and the provisions to qualify for payments under the program that is funded by employers and workers would be stricter.
A story this week by The Canadian Press on the unexplained repeal of the Fair Wages and Hours of Labour Act simply asked: "Is the Harper government fundamentally anti-labour?"
Most observers would describe Harper's Tories as ideologically strongly pro-business, highly opposed to unions and collective bargaining, and steadfast about reducing Ottawa's $23.5-billion budget deficit. In that respect their actions hardly come as a surprise.
Canadian Pacific wouldn't be the first time Harper used back-to-work legislation. In the year since winning his first majority in Parliament last May, his government used it three times - once with Canada Post and twice with Air Canada.
To be fair, the Tories aren't the only Canadian government to override collectively bargained rights of workers.
In 1997, Liberal prime minister Jean Chretien ended a two-week postal strike by imposing a settlement and current Liberal Leader Bob Rae's "social contract" with Ontario's public sector unions when he was NDP premier in the early 1990s arbitrarily rewrote contracts to address budget woes.
The federal NDP has allowed back-to-work legislation to pass.
For the first five years of Confederation, union activity was a criminal act in Canada. It was 1872, near the end of the Industrial Revolution, when Parliament passed the Trade Unions Act.
Labour leaders would contend it's not simply a coincidence growth of the union movement in the 20th century corresponded with improvements in public health care, public education and the overall working conditions for employees in Canada.
The percentage of working Canadians represented by unions peaked in the 1980s at 38 per cent. It's now about 30 per cent.
Now, Canada's biggest unions are looking at a possible merger. The Canadian Auto Workers and the Communication, Energy and Paperworkers also acknowledged they're looking to the unemployed and the retired as potential new members.
Critics, mostly union leaders and academics, contend Harper's government is abusing labour laws.
One issue in the CP strike centres on a provision Canadian Labour Code that allows Ottawa to force employees to continue to provide services "to prevent an immediate and danger to the safety or health of the public."
Raitt has said she's considering changing the code so "the economy" is deemed essential service for the country.
While the unions fight on, it's uncertain how much clout organized labour carries these days.
The movement isn't what it once was and the report on the CAW/CEP merger acknowledged a goal is to change a perception unions aren't relevant in today's society.
Given their challenges, and common foe in Ottawa, teaming up likely makes sense.
Harper famously said in 1997 "Canada is a Northern European welfare state in the worst sense of the term," so you can pretty much see how public policy in Ottawa is going over the rest of his mandate.
Perhaps the best hope for labour leaders might just be that for all of Harper's neo-conservative zeal, the politician in him knows it's smart to get the heavy lifting done in year one of the mandate and hope that voters forget, or at least accept, it.
It means 2012 is shaping up to be a historic year in labour relations in Canada, historically bad.
canada.com, Mon May 28 2012
Byline: Stephen Ewart
Labour Minister Diane Finely says Canada's economic prosperity depends on the country's ability to meet emerging and growing labour market challenges.
Finley says changes announced Thursday to the Employment Insurance program will help employers find workers and Canadians find work.
''We want to help Canadians who want to work get back to work,'' she said. ''These changes that we are proposing to EI are not about forcing people to move across Canada, or to take work that doesn't match their skill set.''
For so-called long-tenured workers who have been mostly employed the past 10 years, the new rules will require that they accept a job within their usual occupation as long as it pays at least 90 per cent of their previous hourly wage.
The worker must become less choosy and willing to take a lower-paying job _ within 80 per cent of their previous pay _ after 18 weeks being on the system, however.
For frequent EI claimants, the rules will be far stricter, the government says.
Canadians who have been on the system at least three times for a total of 60 weeks over the past five years will be expected to take a similar job that pays at least 80 per cent of the previous rate. But that's only for six weeks _ after that they would be required to take any job they are qualified for at 70 per cent of the previous pay.
The government has also created a third, in-between category called occasional claimants. They will need to accept work that pays at least 90 per cent of their previous scale in the first six weeks, 80 per cent in the next 12 and 70 per cent after 18 weeks on benefits.
The majority of claimants _ 58 per cent _ fall in this category, the minister said.
The government said it will also make it easier for the unemployed to find work by issuing them two ''job alerts'' a day by email informing them of available work.
As well, the government intends to link the EI system with the temporary foreign workers program to ensure Canadians are aware of employers' needs for workers.
The President of the Alberta Federation of Labour , Gil McGowan calls the proposed changes which are expected to take effect early next year as a blow to working Canadians.
McGowan says the Harper Tories are simply taking care of their big business buddies, forcing people to take jobs they don't want or they are not qualified or over qualified for.
NDP critic Peggy Nash accused the government of scapegoating unemployed Canadians and suggesting they are not trying hard enough to work.
Statistics Canada reports close to 550 thousand Canadians are collecting E.I. a number that has held rather steady since the fall.
The new rules are expected to be in effect early in 2013.
660News, Thurs May 24 2012
The new Employment Insurance rules from the federal government have the Alberta Federation of Labour fuming.
The AFL says the changes will push wages down, and force workers to take less than what they're worth.
AFL President Gil McGowan says the Harper government is turning the system into the opposite of what it was designed to be.
"This is really fundamentally insulting to me as a representative for working people, because I know that the vast majority of those people on the system are there against their will, they've lost their jobs and just need some help. And that's what the system is supposed to be there for."
The changes are promising to be tough on those who have utilized it more than once.
inews880, Thurs May 24 2012
New changes will tilt labour market in favour of low-wage employers
Changes to EI announced today pull back the curtain on Harper's low-wage agenda says the Alberta Federation of Labour.
"These changes will drive down wages eventually and inevitably force people into jobs they don't want at wages lower than their previous job" says AFL President Gil McGowan.
The Federation, which represents over 140,000 workers across the province, warns that this morning's announcement by Human Resources Minister Diane Finley will inevitably hurt all working families in the country, including here in Alberta.
"To add insult to injury, rather than talking to Canadians about his sweeping changes to EI, the government of Stephen Harper buried the new measures in the omnibus budget bill," says McGowan.
"The way these announcements were made shows the depth of secrecy and anti-labour sentiment espoused by the Conservative Government of Stephen Harper."
Under the new regulations – planned for early 2013 – there will be three new categories for unemployed workers. Each class of worker will be forced, by varying degrees, to consider jobs with lower and lower wages than they previously earned. For example, an Albertan who is a "frequent EI user,"' working in industrial construction and facing regular layoffs and contract work, would be forced to accept any work for which they are qualified for and take a pay cut up to 30 per cent less than their previous hourly wage.
McGowan underscores that new EI measures mark a drastic shift in how the labour market will operate in Canada. "These changes radically alter labour market pressures in favour of employers offering low wage jobs to Canadians."
"When the labour market functions as it should, employers strengthen and increase wages to attract workers. These new changes allow employers to simply sit back, wait, and keep wages low for Canadians. Eventually, an unemployed worker will be bullied into a low paying job," says Gil McGowan.
"These changes coupled with plans by the Federal Conservatives to get rid of the Fair Wages and Labour Act, and a ramping up of the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, show that Canada is on a crash course towards labour austerity and conditions that are clearly in favour of employers, not workers."
AFL President Gil McGowan will be available to the media at 1:30 pm at the CUPE Western Municipal Convention located at the Coast Edmonton Plaza Hotel located at 10155 105 Street in Edmonton. He can be reached by phone at 780-218-9888.
With the Conservative government's changes to the Employment Insurance (EI) system, unemployed workers will be pressured into taking jobs with lower wages than they had when they were employed. This pressure increases the longer a worker is unemployed and will increase faster based on workers' history of EI claims.
The Conservatives now place claimants into three categories:
- Long-tenured workers: workers who received 35 or fewer weeks of regular or fishing EI over the last five years. These workers will be allowed to restrict their job searching to positions that pay 90 per cent of their previous earnings and are in their "usual" occupation.
- Frequent claimants: workers who had three or more regular and/or fishing claims and received over 60 weeks of regular and/or fishing benefits in the past five years.
- Occasional claimants: workers not captured under the two above definitions.
All workers will be forced to accept wages lower than those they earned while working the longer they receive EI benefits.
Studies show that workers with high levels of education take longer to look for and find a job when they are unemployed.
Under the Conservatives' changes to the EI system, workers with high levels of education could be forced into jobs that are below their skill set or usual wage range the longer they spend looking for suitable employment.
These changes will have major consequences to Canada's labour market. Employers now do not have to increase wages to attract workers. They can simply sit back and wait for unemployed workers to accept low-wage jobs.
EDMONTON - Labour groups are stepping up their attack on changes to regulations for temporary foreign workers, saying the adjustments will reduce wages for Canadians, make it tougher for union shops to bid for work and allow companies to cut training of local employees.
"Harper is giving a go-ahead to employers to tap into vulnerable foreign workers to drive down Canadian wages," said Jim Stanford, head economist for the Canadian Auto Workers.
A federal spokeswoman said the measures, which allow workers to be paid less than the going Canadian wage, would not disadvantage workers in hot labour markets.
"Regional differences will be taken into account," said Alyson Queen of Human Resources and Skills Development Canada.
On Wednesday, the federal government said it would speed up approval times for companies to get skilled workers into Canada if local labour can't be found. It also promised better protections for such workers once they're in the country.
But it also said employers would be allowed to pay foreign workers up to 15 per cent less than the prevailing local wage.
Because foreign workers in union shops must be paid the negotiated wage, Gil McGowan of the Alberta Federation of Labour said the provision gives non-union contractors the ability to undercut union contractors.
"What happened yesterday is really about giving non-union construction contractors the upper hand in bidding for work in the oilsands sector," he said.
About half the construction work in Alberta already goes to non-union shops, McGowan said.
He also suggested that increasing the flow of skilled workers from other countries will reduce the need for employers to spend money on training and apprenticeships for Canadians.
Ron Genereux, vice-president of construction for Suncor Energy, said the wage provisions would only potentially apply to a very small number of workers. He said more than 90 per cent of oilsands construction already goes to unionized employees.
The reforms are necessary, he added.
"It was taking us six to nine months to get people here. A project duration is typically 24 to 36 months. If you waste 10 months of that 30 months, you're creating major schedule (problems) and resulting cost challenges on your project."
Employers have no cost incentive to hire from outside Canada, he said.
"Foreign workers are the most expensive workers we've got."
Queen said Ottawa will monitor local labour conditions to make sure proposed wages aren't artificially low. She also said having fewer staff processing applications means more resources will be available for monitoring and enforcement.
She noted the new measures contain provisions for on-site visits from inspectors and the power to compel records, with the co-operation of provincial governments.
Both McGowan and Stanford doubt the government's ability to determine a fair wage in a volatile economy such as Alberta's.
"For years now, people at Statistics Canada have said they don't have adequate labour market information to make this program work," said McGowan. "With the deep cuts to StatsCan, it's going to be even more difficult for them to figure out what exactly is the prevailing wage."
Stanford said all Canadian workers are threatened by the new program, not just labourers in the oilsands.
"These measures that were announced (Wednesday) will be used to staff hotels in Ontario. They'll be used for light manufacturing in British Columbia. This is part of a national low-wage strategy."
Andrew Jackson, an economist for the Canadian Labour Congress, suggested the government would have been better off to focus on coming reforms to immigration legislation that will speed applications from those with in-demand skills.
"A lot of employers would rather have an immigration system that responds more quickly," he said. "It's puzzling and disturbing to me that (the government) is expanding this back-door channel."
Winnipeg Free Press, Thurs Apr 26 2012
Byline: Bob Weber, Canadian Press
Inequality among Alberta's non-unionized women at "shocking" levels – McGowan
Edmonton – Unions are the best cure for the unfair pay gap that exists between men and women working in Alberta, according to new figures released today by the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) (click here for Backgrounder).
"Alberta has the highest levels of wage inequality in Canada, but unions provide the most equal workplaces for women in our province," says McGowan, president of the AFL, which represents 145,000 workers.
"Today, on International Women's Day, it is disappointing to see the unfair treatment endured by Alberta women workers. However, it is clear that unions in Alberta are successfully leading the fight for equality."
The union advantage is particularly stark for young women, aged 15-24. Young women in Alberta, without union coverage, have seen their wages stalled at $12/hour since 2009. But unionized young women earn a median $17.84/hour.
Unionized women's wages are higher than non-union women in all age groups, says McGowan. The presence of a union means a smaller pay gap between women and men in all age categories.
The AFL also revealed Alberta's stunning pay gap. Alberta women working full-year, full-time earn only 68 per cent of the amount men earn. Canada-wide, women earn 79 per cent of what men earn. The recession did not change the pay gap for Alberta women, which remains at the level most other provinces were at in the 1970s.
"Alberta women face higher levels of income inequality because our province lags behind the rest of Canada – and most of the industrialized world – in policies that allow women to balance family obligations with the workplace, such as investments in child care," says McGowan. "Alberta has among the worst family leave policies in Canada and low employment standards compared to other jurisdictions."
Alberta is also the only province in Canada without some kind of voice in the Legislature for women. All other Canadian provinces and territories, as well as the federal government, have either a ministry responsible for the status of women, an advisory council on the status of women, or some combination of these institutions.
McGowan repeated the Alberta Federation of Labour's call for Premier Redford to establish a Minister for the Status of Women.
MEDIA CONTACT: Gil McGowan, AFL president, 780-218-9888
Advocates of a living wage hit downtown streets Tuesday to hand out $9.40 bills to raise awareness that Alberta's minimum wage, now the lowest in the country, is not enough.
"We're just trying to raise awareness on the fact that the new minimum wage is not a living wage, it's not enough for people to get by on," said Lorinda Peel, Lethbridge community mobilizer for Public Interest Alberta.
"The bills are basically just to get the word out. What we want people to do is hand them out as tips to servers or people in the serving industry that are making minimum wage, people who hopefully would speak up and speak out against it."
She said the idea is to circulate the bills around the city so more people are aware of who the minimum wage affects.
"It's not just teenagers, there's a lot of people - 17.8 per cent of people in Lethbridge are working for less than $12 an hour, and it's a huge range of people that fit into that category. You've got single mothers, people in their 40s, 50s, teenagers, students going to university and college, it affects a lot of people," Peel said, adding the ultimate goal is to get the minimum wage increased to a more livable wage of $12 an hour.
"Right now Alberta has the lowest minimum wage across Canada, so we'd like to see a review of that. Working for less than $12 an hour with the cost of living these days is just not feasible."
Shannon Phillips, policy analyst for the Alberta Federation of Labour and chair of the Womanspace Resource Centre, said having the lowest minimum wage in Canada reinforces the "growing gap between rich and poor."
"In Alberta, we are a very wealthy place, but we are not doing well in terms of the growing in equality and the growing gap between rich and poor. We've seen this play out on an international stage, we're seeing it also playing out right here at home," she said. "The fact is that we can do better here in Alberta."
She noted those working in restaurants and bars making a minimum $9.05 an hour, and expected to cover the difference with tips, are especially hit hard.
"This differential wage assumes that everyone who is working in the service industry is making some kind of wild amount of tips, which we know from the research it's not true . . . and those kinds of jobs do not come with benefits, they don't come with even EI because EI is based on your minimum wage, it's not based on tips, they don't come with any other of the job protection that higher wage earners get."
Phillips added Alberta does not have any laws regarding tips and gratuities.
"Here we have a minimum wage that is dependent on the existence of tips, but not one law around how employers deal with tips," she pointed out. "So we know from experience, and it's perfectly legal, for employers to take tips, to take tips for a tip out to other staff, or just to take them outright, and so if you have that situation then this law is just ripe for abuse."
More information on the $9.40 bills and living wage can be found at www.facebook.com/NotaLivingWage or www.pialberta.org
Lethbridge Herald, Wed Nov 2 2011
Byline: Jamie Woodford
By December, 116 long-term care residents will be transferred from Mackenzie Place to the privately-owned Points West Living facility, as well as the new Grande Prairie Care Centre, set to open at the end of this year.
Since opening in May to serve seniors as well as mental health, dementia and palliative care patients, Points West has taken in 51 residents from Mackenzie Place.
Paula Anderson is a Grande Prairie resident and vice-president of the provincial lobbying group, Friends of Medicare. She said a close friend's husband suffers from dementia, and is among the Mackenzie Place residents who have already been moved.
Anderson spoke of her concerns to media at a Friends of Medicare appearance at the QEII Thursday.
"With patients in this situation, moving them is an upheaval in their lives, and we know that a lot of the people who have been transferred and moved from one facility to another don't do well – it can shorten life expectancy," she said.
"What I'm hearing is that there's a lot of minimum wage people being hired over at Points West. What kind of training do they bring to it compared to trained nursing staff that are very well versed in dementia patients and long-term care patients?"
"We're seeing a disturbing trend across the province of moving patients out of public long-term care facilities and into private centres," added Friends of Medicare director David Eggen of Edmonton.
"In the midst of doing that, we fear that we are losing economic efficiency for our health care."
Mary Dahr works as a technologist in the QEII's microbiology lab, and has seen concern among the Mackenzie Place staff over the transition.
"They're not only concerned for their livelihood, but they're concerned for the patients there," she said. "The families of the patients at Mackenzie Place were told that 90% of the caregivers from Mackenzie Place would be at the new facility, and that in fact is not happening."
But the province's health provider states that the move is an improvement to seniors care in Grande Prairie.
"Alberta Health Services are working to increase choices for seniors and others across the province," said Deb Guerette of AHS communications in Grande Prairie, adding that Points West Living has already taken in 32 local seniors who were previously without long-term care.
"In Grande Prairie, when the two new facilities open, there will be 91 new spaces for supportive living and continuing care residents that we have not had before. It also creates a much more modern and homelike environment for residents."
Guerette admits that Mackenzie Place staff will lose their jobs with the transition, but said that the new facilities will offer opportunity for them.
"Staff have the option of seeking a new position within AHS, or with working with one of the facility partners," she said.
"We have hired qualified staff from Grande Prairie, including staff from Mackenzie Place, and continue to look for more staff including from Mackenzie Place," said Doug Mills, manager of company that runs Points West, Connecting Care. "They are at similar wages and their seniority was recognized."
Friends of Medicare members expressed concern Thursday that the privately-run Points West Living will not uphold the same standards as the hospital's long-term care centre, but Alberta Health is assuring the public that services will not degenerate and that the fees Mackenzie Place resident's families pay will not increase.
"The private partners operate under the same standards and have for some 50 years in Alberta," Guerette said. "Whether the provider is public or voluntary or private they're all required to comply with the same standards."
Alberta Daily Herald Tribune, Sat Jun 10 2011
Byline: Eric Plummer