Workplace safety move welcomed, but far more must be done, says AFL: Government must make Certificates of Recognition program transparent or it will fail
The Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) welcomed today’s move by the provincial government to improve workplace health and safety, but says changes to the Certificate of Recognition (COR) do not go far enough.
“The COR program is flawed and ineffective, as the Auditor General pointed out in a damning report last year,” says Gil McGowan, president of the AFL, which represents 145,000 workers. “While the stricter guidelines announced today (Thursday) are a step in the right direction, they are not enough to reduce workplace deaths and injuries.”
Employment and Immigration Minister Thomas Lukaszuk announced that employers who experience on-site fatalities, serious injuries or multiple stop-work orders would face reviews of their safety accreditation and would find it harder to keep CORs. These certificates can be used to help win contracts and qualify for reduced premiums for the Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB). Last year, the Auditor General identified 63 employers that persistently failed health-and-safety orders, and that about half of them still held CORs.
“The government handed out CORs like candy – and did little or nothing to take them away from problem employers. It admits that only four companies have lost COR certification in the last seven years due to failed audits. For far too long, Alberta workers have been hurt or killed while bad employers escaped penalty. This has to stop,” says McGowan.
“For these new guidelines to work, the system must be completely transparent. Unfortunately, the government has already proved it lacks the courage to make public the full safety records of employers. It promised to post records nearly a decade ago, but bowed to industry lobbyists and launched a watered-down website that provides only Lost-Time Claims (LTCs), a meaningless statistic that excludes the majority of workplace injuries,” he says.
The AFL says the government must also do more to prevent injuries and death, rather than waiting to react after a tragedy has taken place. It released a 10-point plan to improve safety with recommendations including more inspectors with more powers, more prosecutions of problem employers, protection for workers who blow the whistle on unsafe practices, and mandatory joint health-and-safety committees for workers and employers.
“Most of these policies are already in place in other provinces. Alberta workers deserve at least the same level of protection,” says McGowan.
Gil McGowan, President, Alberta Federation of Labour @ 780-218-9888 (cell)
Alberta Workplace safety violators will soon be hit with harsher penalties.
Employment and Immigration minister Thomas Lukaszuk announced Tuesday that workplace deaths, serious injuries and multiple stop-work orders are now grounds for immediate safety reviews.
"We're putting employers on notice," said Lukaszuk. "After July 1, we'll be launching reviews as soon after a workplace incident as possible."
The rule change applies to companies who belong to the Certificate of Recognition (COR) program. COR holders are granted accreditation through a peer based application and approval process. The program recognizes companies who develop a health and safety management system that meets established Employment and Immigration standards.
Lukaszuk says the move is an effort to hold companies accountable after they've received a COR.
"Once you apply for COR and you receive it, there was really no compliance method to make sure that you continue to be living up to the requirements of COR," said Lukaszuk.
More than 9,000 companies in Alberta hold COR certificates. Those companies employ nearly 50% of the workforce in the province.
Of the nine workplace fatalities in Alberta this year, two of the companies can be found on the government list of COR holders.
Employers who have workplace fatalities, serious incidents or injuries, or are issued two or more stop-work orders in a 12 month period can have their COR revoked.
"Now the likelihood of our officers entering your work place unannounced randomly is quite high because I have doubled the number of occupational health and safety officers," said Lukaszuk.
COR accreditation is generally required to bid on substantially larger projects in Alberta. COR holders also receive WCB rebates through the annual Partnerships in Injury Reduction program, which saw upwards of $77 million refunded to Alberta companies last year.
Since the COR program first launched, the Alberta Liberals have called the accreditation process flawed, saying any company who applies can receive the certificate.
"A significant number of companies had these CORs whether they were justified or not, so it was kind of a rubber stamping: apply for it and you receive it. And now, Lukaszuk is talking about actually making it meaningful, which it hasn't been up until this point," said Liberal Employment Critic Harry Chase.
The Alberta Federation of Labour echo's Chase, pointing to a recent "damning report" by the Auditor General that identifies 63 companies that failed health and safety orders, and some still hold CORs.
"The government handed out CORs like Candy - and did little or nothing to take them away from problem employers," said ALF president Gil McGowan. "For these new guidelines to work, the system must be completely transparent. Unfortunately, the government has already proved it lacks the courage to make public the full safety records of employers."
For a list of companies who hold COR certificates visit www.employment.alberta.ca
Edmonton Sun, Thurs Jun 2 2011
Byline: Tanara McLean
The Alberta Federation of Labour says Employment and Immigration Minister Thomas Lukaszuk is going to leave his cabinet post to run for the provincial PC leadership. The AFL worries, by doing so, Lukaszuk will leave a lot work undone, such as bumping up minimum wage, improving workplace health and safety, and fixing the Temporary Foreign Worker program.
But Lukaszuk says the AFL should rein in its predictions about his political future.
"They have never been accurate on anything they have predicted up to now," says Lukaszuk. "You can guess that they may not be accurate on this one either. If I make that decision, I will let you know."
Lukaszuk also questions the timing of the AFL's prediction, given the crisis surrounding the Slave Lake fires. "We're simply swamped trying to help Albertans," he says, calling the union's comments "unbecoming and in poor taste."
The AFL argues that now is the perfect time to increase minimum wage, as a lot of students will soon be seeking summer jobs. Lukaszuk says the government's priority is helping displaced residents from the Slave Lake area.
iNews880, Sat May 21 2011
Byline: Reid Wilkins
Re: "WCB to cover volunteer firefighters who get cancer on job; Bill provides same benefits as full-timers get," The Journal, May 11.
The Alberta Federation of Labour welcomes the news that Alberta will extend Workers' Compensation Board coverage to include volunteer firefighters.
These courageous people -whether professional or volunteer -put their lives on the line to protect the lives and property of Albertans. Theirs is a dangerous occupation. They deserve to be protected and are entitled to the same compensation benefits as other workers.
As Employment and Immigration Minister Thomas Lukaszuk says: "At the end of the day this is not about dollars and cents."
One wonders, then, how he can justify continuing to exclude agricultural workers from the same workplace compensation coverage. Theirs, too, is a dangerous occupation. In the nine years the Alberta government has been consulting on how to improve safety for agricultural workers, 160 people have died on farm work sites.
They do important work -putting food on the tables of Albertans. This is the only province that maintains 19th century rules, where farm workers are excluded from occupational health and safety laws, as well as legislation governing hours of work and overtime, statutory holidays, vacation pay, the right to refuse unsafe work, being informed of work-related dangers and compensation if they are injured on the job.
This is not about dollars and cents, it's about doing what's right -that means extending the Occupational Health and Safety Act and the Workers' Compensation Act to cover paid farm workers.
Gil McGowan, president, Alberta Federation of Labour
Edmonton Journal, Mon May 16 2011
Re: "Justice for firefighters," Editorial, May 12.
The Alberta Federation of Labour welcomes the news that Alberta will extend Workers' Compensation Board coverage to include volunteer firefighters. These courageous people -whether professional or volunteer -put their lives on the line to protect Albertans' lives and property. They deserve to be protected and are entitled to the same compensation benefits as other workers.
As Employment and Immigration Minister Thomas Lukaszuk says: "At the end of the day, this is not about dollars and cents." One wonders, then, how he can justify continuing to exclude agricultural workers from the same workplace compensation coverage. Theirs, too, is a dangerous occupation (in the nine years the Alberta government has been consulting on how to improve safety for agricultural workers, 160 people have died on farm work sites.) They do important work -putting food on the tables of Albertans. This is the only province that maintains 19th-century rules where farm workers are excluded from occupational health and safety laws, as well as legislation governing hours of work and overtime, statutory holidays, vacation pay, the right to refuse unsafe work, and being informed of work-related dangers and compensation if they are injured on the job.
This is about doing what's right. That means extending the Occupational Health and Safety Act and the Workers' Compensation Act to cover paid farm workers.
Gil McGowan, Edmonton Gil McGowan is president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
Calgary Herald, Mon May 16 2011
Delay in inspecting murder trial worksite is evidence of government failure: Minister’s reliance on complaints-driven process puts Albertans at risk, says AFL
The provincial government has shown once again that its attitude toward inspecting workplaces is putting Albertans in danger, says the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL).
"Despite undeniable and uncontested evidence of a workplace problem that played a role in the death of a worker's wife, the Ministry of Employment and Immigration said it would not investigate because a complaint had not been filed," says Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, which represents 140,000 workers.
Narin Sok, a 51-year-old employee at a scrap metal yard, was found to be suffering from heavy-metal toxicity due to exposure at his workplace, according to an agreed statement of facts submitted at his Court of Queen's Bench trial for the 2008 murder of his wife, Deang Huon. Crown and defence lawyers agreed that Sok is not criminally responsible for the death due to delirium caused by the condition.
"The excuse of not investigating because no complaint has been filed is the same feeble reasoning used by Employment and Immigration Minister Thomas Lukaszuk when confronted with research provided by the AFL last month that showed widespread violations of rules governing child workers," says McGowan.
"The government's complaints-driven process is a failure. The only way to keep workplaces safe is for a proactive campaign of vigorous and frequent random inspection by inspectors with real powers to punish violators. Instead, this government chooses to wait for complaints to be filed and reacts to them – literally waiting until people are hurt before taking action," says McGowan.
"The minister boasts about his recent string of blitz inspections of forklift operations, young workers and commercial construction sites, but these have come after accidents or concerns have been raised in the media. These blitzes alone are not enough to prevent problems. Even though warnings were given in advance of the inspection blitzes, a staggering number of problems have been uncovered. Once the inspection blitz is over, bad employers know that the spotlight has been turned off and they are free to return to even worse safety practices."
The AFL has called for blitzes to be backed up with more concrete action, including ongoing random inspections, hiring even more inspectors than the minister has announced, giving them increased powers to issue on-site tickets for violations, increased mandatory training for such things as forklift operations and mandatory joint worker-employer safety committees.
"The number of workers killed on the job jumped by 24 per cent to 136 last year. It is way past time the government started doing its job and protected its citizens, rather than relying on show-and-tell blitzes for the media and having his department wait for the phone to ring with a complaint after another person has died or been hurt," says McGowan.
Contact: Gil McGowan, president, Alberta Federation of Labour, is attending the CLC convention in Vancouver and can be reached at 780-218-9888
May 2011: AFL convention; lineup of star speakers at CLC convention; battle for workplace safety continues; workers warned about delayed retirement
AFL Convention a success: Read all about it!
- About 400 delegates and guests attended the AFL convention in Calgary for a packed schedule of events that included:
- A moving ceremony to mourn workers killed and injured on the job;
- A parade at Calgary International Airport in support of CAW workers negotiating a new contract;
- A rousing speech from the secretary treasurer of the Wisconsin AFL-CIO that prompted affiliates to donate more than $50,000 to the group's Defence Fund;
- An inspiring talk on how to organize campaigns by Harvard University Prof. Marshall Ganz, presented via Skype;
- A picnic in Eau Claire park to support a drive by workers to keep Calgary's parks public; and
- A rally before the federal election to remind voters of Harper's Broken Promises.
Lineup of star speakers at CLC convention
- Jack Layton, leader of the NDP and now head of Canada's Official Opposition, thrilled delegates at the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) convention in Vancouver. He called for a united front in the drive to push for improving the Canada Pension Plan. AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka brought a message of thanks for Canada's labour movement. "You were at our side in Wisconsin, in Indiana and Ohio when we called. You kept your promise of solidarity." Sharan Burrow, general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) – the first woman to lead an international labour organization –came with a message of praise and encouragement. "You, your unions and your Canadian Labour Congress are a bright spot in a world where unions and workers are under attack."
Battle for workplace safety continues
- New figures revealed that the number of Alberta workers killed on the job last year soared by 24 per cent to 136. The AFL continues to pressure the Alberta government to take real action to improve workplace safety, calling for a range of measures including posting the full safety records of employers online, rather than the meaningless statistics now provided; increasing the province's dismal record for prosecuting employers whose unsafe worksites cause injury and death (the prosecution rate for workplace fatalities is 2.8 per cent); giving inspectors the power to issue tickets for violations during inspections; and introducing mandatory worksite health-and-safety committees that include workers. For release on murder trial worksite ...; for blitzes release ...; for forklifts release ...; Day of Mourning release ...
Workers warned about delayed retirement
- An Alberta government plan - revealed by Employment and Immigration Minster Thomas Lukaszuk - to encourage workers to delay retirement to deal with a looming labour shortage raised concerns in the labour movement. "If he's talking about forcing people to work past retirement age against their choice, then he's going to have a war on his hands," said AFL president Gil McGowan. "Working Albertans won't take kindly to having their retirement dreams undermined or taken away." For AFL press release ... and for government release ...
- Your help still needed at Gate Gourmet picket line - It's been a month since about 60 workers were locked out at Gate Gourmet's facility at Edmonton International Airport. The workers had been seeking only moderate increases – barely enough to keep pace with the rising cost of living and the soaring cost of gas needed to get to and from the worksite – but were given a final offer of a three-year wage freeze and a threat to close the facility. Join them on the picket line at Airport Road. For more info ...
- May 17: International Day against Homophobia
- May 21: International Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development
- May 25: Multi-cultural Luncheon (CUPE 1158), 10410 – 111 Ave., Edmonton
- May 30: World No-Tobacco Day
- June 4: International Day of Innocent Children Victims of Aggression
- June 5: World Environment Day
- June 11: Edmonton Pride Parade
- June 20: World Refugee Day
- June 21: National Aboriginal Day (click here for Edmonton events)
- June 27/28: AFL Standing Committees' Orientation and Meeting
Did You Know ...
- In 2008, there were 8.91 deaths per 100,000 workers in Alberta, compared to the national average of 7.14.
- In 1991, Alberta spent $11.14 per worker on health and safety programs. In 2009, it spent $10.13 per worker.
- In 2009, 620,000 Albertans (22 per cent of workforce) was employed in the top four most dangerous industries, compared to 341,000 workers (15 per cent of the workforce) in 1991.
- Between 2006 and 2009, there were 142 fatalities directly on worksite, but only four convictions – that's a 2.8-per-cent conviction rate.
Alberta's employment minister says safety inspectors are fanning out across the province for a month-long safety sweep focused on inexperienced employees and the places they work.
Speaking at Bumpy's Cafe in the Beltline on Wednesday, Thomas Lukaszuk said he was issuing a "fair and public notice" to employers and workers to make sure proper training and equipment are in place.
"At the end of the day, this is not a game of hide-and-seek," he said. "We want you to be safe not because of the risk you may be caught, but because of the risk that this is your employee, this is somebody's kid, somebody's husband or wife that can potentially be killed on the job."
From 2006 to 2010, Alberta workers aged 15 to 24 accounted for 27,166 lost-time claims -or roughly 18 per cent provincewide, according to ministry statistics.
During the same time, 37 young workers died.
Employers and workers are each responsible for making the workplace safe, Lukaszuk said.
The targeted inspection is the third safety blitz launched by the government following recent criticism of workplace safety in Alberta.
Results from two previous sweeps -looking at construction sites and forklift safety -have proved disappointing, according to the minister.
Lukaszuk said he was unhappy with the dozens of infractions encountered, noting that the industries were forewarned about the inspections.
However, the minister said he still believes focused inspections are the right way to help change workplace safety culture in Alberta.
Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan called Lukaszuk "the minister of workplace blitzes" and said the short-term inspections only partially address safety concerns.
Alberta must step up its enforcement, including ongoing random inspections, heavier fines and more aggressive prosecution of safety infractions, McGowan said.
"Blitzes breed complacency. Once they're over, employers breathe a sigh of relief and think they can go back to their bad habits."
Diana Doublet, 19, started working at Bumpy's about two weeks ago, when she came home to Calgary on summer break from university in Victoria.
Food preparation at the bustling cafe has been a major change of pace from her previous summer job at a library. The teenager said even in the middle of cafe chaos during peak traffic hours, keeping safe is a priority and often comes down to common sense.
Bumpy's owner John Evans said the average age of staff at the popular cafe is about 23.
In addition to regular training, managers ensure younger staff are only given tasks they're capable of performing as they learn the ropes, said Evans. "We sort of move them up as they're ready to move up."
Renovations just wrapped up at the location. Improvements focused on making the 1,100-square-foot cafe more efficient for staff, Evans said.
"We try to make sure we take care of our staff as much as possible."
Calgary Herald, Fri May 5 2011
Byline: Jamie Komarnicki
Lukaszuk has become the minister of workplace blitzes: But blitz inspections alone won’t make Alberta safer for workers
A recent series of workplace safety blitzes by occupational health and safety inspectors has confirmed there are serious safety problems in Alberta workplaces – but this approach is doing little to help.
"These inspection blitzes have provided undeniable proof of the dangers faced by workers," says Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL), which represents 140,000 workers.
"However, these one-off inspection blitzes do not solve the problems of workplace safety – they simply show that the problems exist," says McGowan.
"To make our workplaces safer – to save lives and prevent injuries – blitzes must be backed up with more concrete action, including ongoing random inspections, hiring even more inspectors than the minister has announced, giving them increased powers to issue on-site tickets for violations, increased mandatory training for such things as forklift operations and mandatory joint worker-employer safety committees."
Yesterday, the minister revealed that a forklift inspections blitz in February and March resulted in 214 orders being issued by inspectors against employers for violations. Of the 87 employers visited, 65 were found to have failed to maintain or inspect their forklifts or did not properly train workers.
Today, he announced there would be a similar blitz focused on young workers. In February, there was a blitz on commercial construction sites.
"The minister is trying to convince Albertans that he's being serious about safety, but one-off blitzes simply scratch the surface. They don't save lives," says McGowan.
"The minister agrees with us that saving lives and preventing injures will also save money for employers. Why won't he agree to take real action? Time and time again we have offered simple and obvious solutions to the problem," says McGowan.
"It's hard not to come to the conclusion that Employment and Immigration Minister Thomas Lukaszuk is simply playing politics and trying to create the impression that he is doing something. In reality, all these blitzes do is tell us how serious the safety problems are."-30-
For more information call AFL President Gil McGowan @ (780) 218-9888
Minister fails to implement obvious solution to forklift-safety problem: Mandatory training and licensing for forklift operators is the best way to save lives, says AFL
The disappointing results of a recent blitz of forklift-safety inspections should come as no surprise to Alberta’s employment minister, says the province’s largest labour organization.
“We have told Employment and Immigration Minister Thomas Lukaszuk repeatedly that occasional safety blitzes are not enough to solve forklift-safety problems in Alberta,” says Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL), which represents 140,000 workers.
“If the government was really committed to promoting forklift safety, it would follow the lead of Manitoba and institute a mandatory system for training and certification of forklift operators. We require people to pass licensing tests before they can get behind the wheel of a car or a truck. But no such requirements are in place for forklifts. It just doesn't make sense."
McGowan points out that forklifts are potentially dangerous pieces of heavy industrial equipment - and they're involved in thousands of injury incidents every year. "I can't understand why the Minister and this government continue to reject mandatory training and licensing. It's a common-sense solution to a serious problem,” he says.
A total of 214 orders were issued by health and safety inspectors against employers for forklift-related safety violations after the recent inspections blitz in February and March. Of the 87 employers visited, 65 were found to have failed to maintain or inspect their forklifts or did not properly train workers.
“The Minister's recent safety blitz is welcome because it reveals just how serious the problem is. But it's obvious that such blitzes are not enough," says McGowan. "Mandatory training and certification for forklift operators, as happens in Manitoba, would be much more effective in saving lives and preventing injuries. We also need on-going random inspections as opposed to one-off safety blitzes. Without on-going inspections, employers get complacent.”
McGowan points out that even the Alberta Construction Association, which represents employers, prefers on-going, random inspections over one-time blitzes.
The issue of forklift safety rocketed to public attention in 2008 after 16-year-old Mitchell Tanner died on his second day on the job while on a forklift at a Rona store in St. Albert. An AFL campaign at that time led to the creation of a joint government, industry and labour panel to look into the issue of forklift safety.
The panel drafted a set of guidelines which were quietly released earlier this year. Over the AFL's objections, the new rules provide only voluntary "guidelines and best practices" instead of the kind of mandatory rules found in Manitoba's Code of Forklift Safety.
“Voluntary guidelines are not enough. We can’t simply hope that employers will do the right thing. Proper training and certification have to be mandatory,” says McGowan. “I'm convinced that Mitch would be alive today if he had received proper training. Unless Alberta follows Manitoba’s example, people will continue to be injured and killed unnecessarily on forklifts in Alberta.”
For more information call AFL President Gil McGowan @ (780) 218-9888