March 2011: Wisconsin protests; forklift safety; Alberta govt failing to collect billions; equality still a dream in Alberta; IAMAW 99 fight against CLAC
- From Wisconsin to Egypt, from Mexico to Canada, the rights of workers are under attack. The right of public-sector unionized workers to bargain collectively has been taken away in Wisconsin and similar moves are planned in other states south of the border. Meanwhile, the billionaire Koch brothers, who have funded this anti-union, anti middle-class campaign, have been revealed to have significant business interests in Alberta. They may be giving money to right-wing parties here! For more information ... and AFL video ... For the AFL Workers' Rights page ... To stay informed, follow us on Twitter and connect with us on Facebook.
- It's been a century since International Women's Day was launched, but Alberta women still earn, on average, only 72 cents for every dollar a man earns. Alberta is the only jurisdiction in Canada that does not give women and official voice to bring focus to this important issue and help to end the unfairness. The AFL is working to change this by aggressively lobbying MLAs. For more information ... and see also ...
AFL - making workplaces safer
- Campaigns by the AFL on workplace safety have resulted in positive moves by the Alberta government, which announced it would be hiring more inspectors and that it would initiate a forklift-safety blitz. However, the government's actions fell far short of what is needed to keep Alberta workers safe, so the AFL pressure continues. For more information ... and for recent release on forklift safety ...
Government pleads poverty while failing to collect billions
- The Alberta government released a budget inspired by the Wildrose Alliance, one that continued the starvation diet for Alberta's valued public services and included no plan to shore up the province's flagging revenues. Meanwhile, a coalition of unions called on the Auditor General to investigate why the government was failing to collect billions of dollars every year, by not meeting its own targets for revenue from oil and gas operations. For more information ... and for the release on the Auditor General's report ...
- Join the fight against CLAC! - IAM Local Lodge 99 is locked in a runoff battle with CLAC to represent hundreds of workers at OEM Remanufacturing in Edmonton, an engine and powertrain component remanufacturing company, serving the railway, natural gas and diesel sectors. IAM has been fighting for nearly seven years to represent these workers, but victory is in sight. The Alberta Labour Relations Board has ruled that the OEM workers have the right to choose their own union, and IAM has a short time to campaign for votes. But they need your help. For details ... Also go to www.oem99.ca
- March 22 - World Water Day
- March 26 - Friends of Medicare health-care rally at the Legislature (www. friendsofmedicare.org)
- March 31 - CUPE Alberta convention, Grande Prairie
- March 31 - Public Interest Alberta Annual Advocacy Conference
- April 2 - 27th Annual Labour Appreciation Night
- April 28-May 1 - AFL Convention
Did you know ...
- That some CLAC contracts say no union activity is allowed at the workplace during working hours "except that which is necessary for the processing of grievances and enforcement" of the collective agreement.
- That some CLAC contracts allow for only four hours' notice of layoffs, or say that no notice is required for layoffs due to equipment failure, material shortage or "other reasons."
- That some CLAC contracts stipulate that, in the event of it and the employer failing to resolve a matter of contention, "it agrees that the decisive word resides with management."
- That some CLAC contracts "will not permit or encourage any cessation of work, strike, slowdown or otherwise restrict or interfere with the employer's operation." For more information ... and go to www.oem99.ca
Employment Minister Thomas Lukaszuk writes to refute the Journal editorial "Confront lax law on farm safety," Opinion, March 16.
The minister cites the huge fines imposed for safety violations and he disputes the stats used by The Journal.
Unfortunately, he fails to mention the Alberta government does not know the number of deaths and injuries occurring in the agriculture industries because Alberta does not keep track. Only 55 per cent of hospitals have proper reporting systems for farm casualties.
He also did not mention that his ministry does not investigate farm accidents and therefore does not impose fines or penalties, and so his point that Alberta has higher fines is meaningless.
There is currently a request on the minister's desk from the official Opposition, the Alberta NDP, the Alberta Federation of Labour, the Alberta Centre for Injury Control and Research, the United Food and Commercial Workers Canada and the Farmworkers Union of Alberta to investigate all agricultural workplace fatalities, serious injuries or injuries to a child.
We await his reply. Eric Musekamp, president, Farmworkers Union of Alberta, Bow Island
Edmonton Journal, Wed Mar 30 2011
The Wheat Province has had eight straight years of decreases in its time-loss injury rate -a 37-per-cent drop in its injury rate since it instituted a WorkSafe Saskatchewan injury-prevention partnership between its Workers Compensation Board and Ministry of Labour Relations.
Saskatchewan prosecutes companies that don't maintain a safe environment for employees. It prosecuted nearly six times as many cases as Alberta in 2010 despite having a workforce a quarter the size.
But where Saskatchewan and most other provinces in Canada really show up Alberta is on farms. Farm workers in at least eight provinces are covered by occupational health and safety legislation. Alberta farmers are not. Farms have been exempt from Alberta's Occupational Health and Safety Act since 1977.
Twenty-two people died in Alberta farm accidents in 2010, a shocking increase of nine fatalities over the previous year. By comparison, Saskatchewan recorded 10.
Saskatchewan farmers can also voluntarily apply for coverage under the province's Workers' Compensation legislation. Most agricultural employees in Alberta are not eligible for Workers' Compensation. Alberta farm workers also miss out on the protection of labour-standards legislation that provides for overtime, vacation days, time off and minimum wage, but that's another issue.
Alberta's response to its spike in farm fatalities was to appoint a committee. This week, in time for Farm Safety Week, it established a 15-member Farm Safety Advisory Council "to bring government and industry together towards the shared goal of improved farm safety." Creation of this council was first recommended in 2009 and again in 2010 after consultation with 20 "stakeholder groups."
The Alberta Federation of Labour calls this council an exercise in political public relations, and a half measure at best. AFL president Gil McGowan says the Alberta government lacks the courage to stand up to the pressure it is facing from big agricultural business not to introduce workplace safety rules.
But it's not just agricultural corporations that reject the idea of regulation. Smaller farmers don't want to be constrained by another pile of rules either. Many farmers oppose any imposition of OH&S standards, believing as one newly-appointed council member stated, that "farmers should regulate themselves."
"The farmers just don't want legislation telling them what to do," Lacombe-area grain farmer Kathy Pyper said Monday. "The farmers know how to make proper choices and sometimes they (government) get a little carried away with their regulations."
Nine of the 15 members of the new council are farmers. There's also a greenhouse operator, a veterinarian and a feed company official. If they all feel the same way, there is little hope for any reduction in farm accidents any time soon. So far, just talking about farm safety hasn't helped.
This response is typical in Alberta, which was the last province in Canada to implement seatbelt legislation -a full decade after Saskatchewan and British Columbia. Albertans value their freedom, but it is killing them in farmyards every year. Quite often the victims are small children who fall off farm machinery or run under the wheels of farm trucks. Three died on farms and ranches last year. They deserve our protection.
Agriculture Minister Jack Hayden says he hopes to receive draft recommendations for ways to improve farm safety within six months, but he concedes it will be at least a year before any changes could be implemented. And that's probably optimistic.
Will the changes be cosmetic? Will they involve colourful brochures and videos? How many years will pass before Alberta finally joins other provinces that already provide this necessary health-and-safety protection to agricultural workers?
And in the interim, how many more farm workers will die?
Edmonton Journal, Wed Mar 16 2011
So says Employment and Immigration Minister Thomas Lukaszuk who announced that 30 new officers will be hired over the next three years with greater northern focus. They will conduct on-the-spot inspections of Alberta companies, educate employers and workers on OH&S legislation and investigate serious incidents.
In addition to the 16 officers hired in the 2010-11 fiscal year, another 10 will be added for each of the next three years. By 2014, the province will have 132 OHS officers, a 55% increase from the 86 officers in early 2010.
"It's good news for Fort McMurray and it's definitely good news for families in Fort McMurray," said Lukaszuk this morning. He noted that when a workplace fatality occurs it's someone's father, mother, brother, daughter who doesn't come home.
"This hopefully will be another step in keeping residents of Fort McMurray safe."
A couple of factors played into the announcement, said Lukaszuk.
He said that since he took over the ministry, has has made it his mission to bring balance between the educational and enforcement components of health and safety
While he quickly concluded the educational component was superb, he recognized some definite improvement was needed on the enforcement side.
"So I have provided our offices, and I will continue providing our officers with additional enforcement tools. In order for them to be effective and do the work I expect them to do, they need re-enforcement as well."
During recent visits to Fort McMurray, Lukaszuk said it was obvious that the economy is really starting to pick up, and that means not only more workers, but new workers coming here from other parts of Canada and abroad, and some of those new to the industry.
With those workers arriving in the area and as oilsands production increases, Lukaszuk said it's just a mater of being proactive to ensure workers remain safe in the region.
"It's obvious the region is very specialized. The oil and gas industry is overwhelming, a very particular skill set not many have so our Occupational Health and Safety officers will have to be more specialized in their region to be able to not only better interact with employers and employees and speak the same language, but to have a better understanding of the industry and it's requirements.
"A more familiarized officer makes better decisions, makes better investigations and I think we'll see results."
Over the coming weeks, occupational health and safety enforcement, inspections and investigations in Alberta will be divided into three regions instead of two. The traditional regions of north and south, divided near Red Deer, will become north, central and south, providing a greater focus in northern Alberta: the site of major economic activity, particularly in the oil and gas, and construction sectors.
While the Alberta Federation of Labour welcomed the announcement of additional officers, it says more needs to be done and questioned where the money was coming from to pay for the inspectors as the recently announced budget only allowed for a 1.5% increase for inspections.
"The answer is obvious to everyone. Occupational Health and Safety initiatives, all of them, education and enforcement, none of it is paid for by taxpayers, none of it appears in the budget. It's paid for by the WCB it's paid by employers in Alberta. They cover the entire bill for all the officers all the educational programs, prosecutions, everything.
"The AFL should be aware of that if they want to competently represent labour."
Lukaszuk also mentioned an announcement he made a few weeks ago about focus inspections that will be taking place this year. He likened the initiative to a drinking and driving checkstop by police when motorists are given fair warning the enhanced enforcement will be taking place. Once the initiative is complete, usually over the holiday season, police announce the number of vehicles stopped and charges laid.
"We're doing the same thing. Up and above our regular random inspections of all employers and places of employment in Alberta, we will be focusing on certain infractions. We already started focus inspections on forklifts and similar equipment, and that's based on my review of statistics," said Lukaszuk noting that type of equipment has proven to be dangerous.
The next focus will be young and inexperienced workers.
"The economy is really picking up so we're attracting workers to this province again, and many of them come from other industries so they're new to our Alberta industries, but also the school year will be ending very soon and we'll have a lot of students getting their summer jobs; often not familiar with the industrial environment ... their first time doing a particular job; often not very well trained," said Lukaszuk.
"I want to make sure these students, at the end of vacation, go back to school unharmed."
Fort McMurray Today, Mon Mar 7 2011
Byline: Carol Christian
That's the message from president of the Alberta Federation of Labour which represents 140,000 workers in the province.
And while Gil McGowan says it's another step forward from the cost-cutting of the Klein years, he says with just a 1.5 percent increase in the budget for the new inspectors - he's cautious on whether this is just more government rhetoric.
"That ends up being an unfulfilled promise," says McGowan. "I'm hoping that this announcement leads to real change and a real increase in the number of frontline workers doing workplace inspections and that it doesn't turn into just a pre-election promise and is forgotten once the election is passed."
McGowan says the inspectors are especially needed as indicators point towards another economic boom coming to Alberta, and with it a rise in workplace safety incidents.
iNews880, Sat Mar 5 2011
Employment and Immigration Minister Thomas Lukaszuk made the announcement Friday at a meeting of the Edmonton chapter of the Canadian Society of Safety Engineering, saying it is part of his commitment to making Alberta workplaces safer.
"This plan addresses the needs of today and the demands of tomorrow knowing full well that Alberta's economy is on the verge of an increase," he said. "I hope this sends a very strong signal to any company in Alberta who think the law, and particularly occupational health and safety law, does not apply to them."
Ten new inspectors will be added in each of the next three years, bringing a total of 132 inspectors to the province by 2014.
Lukaszuk told the audience employers who ignore safety at their businesses will face serious pressure to shape up.
"That is 132 workplace health and safety investigators sending a clear message that no company, no individual is above the law."
The Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL), a frequent critic of the government's workplace efforts, applauded the sentiment but said the new inspectors still come well short of addressing the problem.
In a press release issued Friday afternoon, AFL president Gil McGowan said many inspectors were cut from the province in the 1990s even while new workers were coming in to Alberta and that these new inspectors don't make up for it.
"Hiring these new inspectors may help us crawl some way back out of the hole that Klein dug, but it will not make us the leaders in safety that we need to be."
McGowan argued that, given the many dangerous industries that operate in the province, more inspectors are needed in Alberta to keep workers safe.
Lukaszuk said the system was not performing where he wanted it to be when he took over the ministry and he will continue to work towards reducing workplace deaths.
"It wasn't working to my standard by all means. A lot of the criticisms that were identified I agreed with," he said. "I am continuing to look and continuing to improve the system."
The department is currently doing an inspection blitz of forklift operators in the province, checking to see if the machinery is being used safely because of the role they have played in a number of workplace accidents.
The department announced the inspections in advance and Lukaszuk said that approach is similar to police forces that announce seat belt or impaired driving blitzes before heading out on the road.
"At the end of the day my goal is to make sure that equipment is being operated safely and that there are no accidents, so I am giving all employers fair warning."
McGowan also challenged the province to change the system so inspectors fine employers on the spot when they find safety infractions rather than issuing stop-work orders or other corrective actions.
Lukaszuk said the province is studying that idea and it could be coming to Alberta.
"We are looking at the possibility of administrative fines and other fines to be implemented in Alberta."
St. Albert Gazette, Sat Mar 5 2011
Byline: Ryan Tumilty
"I hope this sends a strong message to any company or worker in Alberta who feels the law doesn't apply to them," said Employment Minister Thomas Lukaszuk.
"Albertans demand safe workplaces and there shall be safe workplaces."
The officers will be hired over the next three years, meaning the province will have 132 officers by 2014, a number that includes the 16 officers hired last year. That compares to only 86 in early 2010.
The ministry is also dividing the province into three enforcement regions instead of two. This will allow for a greater focus in northern Alberta, where the province is seeing the greatest industrial growth, said Lukaszuk.
"It's hard not see this as a big step in the right direction," said Gil McGowan with the Alberta Federation of Labour. "However I think it needs to be put in context."
"Here in Alberta we've actually suffered probably 15 or maybe even 20 years of underspending on health and safety, and [worksite] inspection in particular."
CBC News, Fri Mar 4 2011
The news comes on the same day that Alberta Employment and Immigration Minister Thomas Lukaszuk announced he will be hiring 10 new occupational health and safety officers each year, for the next three years. These provincial employees conduct on-the-spot inspections of companies, educate employers and workers on safety laws, and investigate serious incidents.
These two new measures are part of a series of actions taken by the government to crack down on workplace safety offenders, an initiative begun last year.
In 2010, a major Herald investigation of Alberta workplace deaths and creative sentencing procedures highlighted the province's lack of oversight on penalties. Up until this year, the government hasn't systematically followed whether companies convicted of safety offences have actually paid their fines or not.
"We do have now a system in place for ensuring that occupational health and safety creative sentences are tracked and followed up on," said David Dear, a spokesman for Alberta Justice.
From now on, the fines will be tracked through a database in the same manner as other court-imposed penalties, such as speeding tickets. If they are not paid, the fines enforcement unit is called in to try to force the person or company to pay. As a last resort, the unit is able to seize assets and property.
Last fall, it was revealed Alberta companies haven't paid at least $1.7 million in traditional and creative fines levied for worker deaths or injuries. Today, at least five creative sentence fines remain outstanding.
These penalties are called "creative" because they allow the guilty party to pay the fine to a post-secondary institution, non-profit or other organization - instead of the government - for a program or service that will help to right the original wrong.
For instance, Syncrude was ordered last month to pay $365,000 to Keyano College after Calgarian Tom Miller was killed while working in Fort McMurray in December 2008.
Miller was crushed by a falling slab of ice and Syncrude pleaded guilty to failing to provide adequate safety protocols. In that vein, the fine will be directed to improve the curriculum for oilpatch workers facing winter conditions, and for a scholarship fund in Miller's name.
The government said Friday the province will have a total of 132 occupational health and safety officers in three years, a 53 per cent increase from early 2010.
Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan said while he's encouraged by the boost to officer ranks, he said the government is only now recovering from the Klein-era cuts of the mid-1990s. McGowan said Alberta has more high-risk industries and should have more safety officers than in other provinces.
Calgary Herald, Fri Mar 4 2011
Byline: Kelly Cryderman
Workplace safety inspectors welcomed, but far more action needed, says AFL: Albertans want real and effective improvements to work safety
"This hiring of 10 new safety officers in each of the next three years must be seen in context," says Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, which represents 140,000 workers. "The government of Ralph Klein slashed the number of inspectors by about half in the early 1990s and we only got back to those numbers in 2009, when there were 86. This was despite the fact that our population had increased by one million and the size of our workforce had seen massive growth."
Alberta is one of the most dangerous places in Canada to work, with its concentration of jobs in industrial sectors that are hazardous, including petroleum development, construction, transportation, manufacturing and processing. Despite this, the Progressive Conservatives have spent less than other jurisdiction on worker health and safety.
"Because Alberta is such a dangerous place to work, we need to spend more than other provinces on safety. Hiring these new inspectors may help us crawl some way back out of the hole that Klein dug, but it will not make us the leaders in safety that we need to be," says McGowan.
"We must also question Employment and Immigration Minister Thomas Lukaszuk on where the money for these inspectors will come from, because the amount for inspection went up only 1.5 per cent in the budget last week, which is less than inflation and population growth," he says.
"The AFL has long called for more inspectors to be hired. It is part of the 10-point action plan of safety we released last year. However, as Alberta heads into another boom, we need more action, more improvements to save the lives and limbs of Alberta's workers," says McGowan.
Inspectors must be given the power to issue on-site administrative fines and stop-work/stop-use orders in cases where they find violations. More resources should also be provided to Crown Prosecutors to pursue charges against workplace that violate the Occupational Health and Safety Code.
"Of the 142 people who lost their lives while at work from 2006 to 2009, the province prosecuted less than three per cent of the employers involved. That is simply unacceptable."
Gil McGowan, President, Alberta Federation of Labour @ cell 780-218-9888 or office 780-483-3021
On Saturday, Employment Minister Thomas Lukaszuk said the province will begin extra inspections at workplaces cross Alberta that use forklifts. The decision was prompted by the high number of forkliftrelated injuries and deaths in recent years, Lukaszuk said.
"It's about time for someone to get out there and check these things and see what's going on," said Carol Gillard.
In 2005, her son, Sean O'Keefe, was killed when 680-kilogram steel frames he was helping move in his job with a Nisku company dislodged from a forklift and fell on him. The company pleaded guilty to failing to ensure safety at work and agreed in court that the operator of the forklift didn't have specific training for the machine.
"They are a dangerous piece of equipment, and, in some places, they're just like a play toy," Gillard said.
"The proper training -they need to check that."
According to the employment minister, the blitz is intended to reduce the number of fatalities and injuries due to the equipment.
Last year, Alberta recorded 219 injuries and 116 lost-time claims due to forklift accidents, Lukaszuk said. There were four fatalities in 2008 and one in 2009, he added.
"Today, we're giving Alberta employers a fair warning that we will be visiting their job sites where forklifts and similar equipment will be used and inspecting them, and we expect them to be properly trained and operating the equipment safely and appropriately," he said.
Under provincial legislation, workers must be trained to safely operate powered mobile equipment such as forklifts. The law, however, doesn't specify the types of training required and it's ultimately up to the discretion of inspectors and, in serious cases, Crown prosecutors and a judge, to determine whether employers ensured workers were competent enough to operate the equipment.
Alberta's requirements lag when it comes to this type of machinery training and certification, contended Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan on Saturday.
Other provinces, such as Manitoba, have a much more rigorous system for driver education and licensing, he said.
"Forklifts are not toys. They're serious pieces of industrial equipment and as a result, they need to be treated with much greater respect than has been the case here in Alberta," McGowan said. "That means we need to follow the Manitoba example and institute a formal system for operator education and certification."
Bob Reid, owner of Bugle Forklift Sales and Rentals in Calgary, said the number of incidents related to the equipment is "astounding."
His company also provides Alberta Safety Codes Council certified safety training classes for drivers who have some experience with forklifts.
"It's knowing what can go wrong. Centre of gravity is huge," said Reid, who noted that the ranges of equipment can carry loads from 450 kilograms to 36,000 kilograms.
Many employers are conscientious about ensuring training and safety, he said.
It's important drivers learn the intricacies of the equipment and know how to operate it properly, he added.
The province's workplace safety record has come under fire recently from opposition politicians and labour leaders who contend Alberta must do a better job of taking violators to court and hire more inspectors. Alberta workers regularly face one of the highest fatality rates in the country.
A blitz on Alberta construction sites last fall uncovered more than 200 safety infractions. A quarter of the violations led the government officers to issue orders to halt work on the site because employees faced imminent dangers.
On Saturday, Lukaszuk said the current blitz is part of a larger plan focusing on improving safety.
The forklift inspections will look at hundreds of sites and may result in fines, stop-work orders and charges. The minister said he'll make the findings public following the blitz.
Occupational Health and Safety officers will be examining training and equipment.
Additional inspections focusing on young workers and residential construction are also in the works for 2011, Lukaszuk said.
Calgary Herald, Tues Feb 22 2011
Byline: Jamie Komarnicki