Despite promises of reform, province’s agricultural workers are excluded from employment standards
Calgary - As agricultural workers mark the province’s tenth annual Farm Workers Day, Alberta remains the only place in Canada that excludes them from employment standards, health and safety and the right to unionize.
On Wednesday, August 20, at an event at the Bridgeland Riverside Community Centre (917 Centre Ave. NE, Calgary AB) the Alberta Federation of Labour joined representatives of other concerned organizations in calling for the immediate inclusion of agricultural workers in Alberta’s workplace standards.
“The people who work in Alberta’s vibrant agricultural sector deserve the same protections as any other Albertans,” AFL secretary treasurer Siobhan Vipond said. “It’s an antiquated exception from the rules that doesn’t make sense in the 21st century. This doesn’t happen anywhere else in Canada – or in most G7 nations. We’re completely alone in this unfair, unjust and callous disregard of the wellbeing of agricultural workers.”
More than 50,000 Albertans work in the agricultural sector. They account for 2.6 per cent of our workforce — and yet have few legal protections in their workplace. One in five agricultural workers in Alberta work at worksites with more than 20 employees.
“When these workers were excluded in the law, it was 1943, and farming was mostly done on family farms,” Vipond said. “But it’s been 70 years, and farming has changed. It is now dominated by huge corporations operating massive hog barns, corporate farms and mushroom factories, employing hundreds of workers. It’s time the law reflected reality, and protected these workers.”
Agricultural workers are exempt for most of the basic employment protections all other Albertans take for granted which makes them very vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. These workers have:
- No basic employment protections, such as minimum wage, limits on hours of work, rest breaks, overtime or statutory holiday pay;
- No health and safety protection ;
- No WCB when they get injured; and
- No right to unionize.
“Too many injuries and tragedies happen on Alberta’s farms. Too many of those could be prevented. There have been promises from the government, but no action on this issue,” Vipond said. “The exclusion of agricultural workers from the most basic workplace protections is a travesty, and one that Premier Hancock could rectify with the stroke of a pen.”
The annual Alberta Farm Workers Day commemorates the death of agricultural worker Terry Rash, who lost his life at the hands of his employer on August 20, 1999. Each year since 2005, Albertans commemorate Rash’s death, as well as the many other agricultural workers who have lost their lives as a result of work-related illness or injury.-30-
Olav Rokne, Communications Director, Alberta Federation of Labour at 780.218.4351 (cell)
or via e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Labour leaders are giving rare praise to the Alberta government for a revamped website that allows people to find out which employers have the highest number of workplace deaths and injuries
The government has put the information online since 2010 but critics said that the website was hard to search. The new version launched at the end of April changes that.
"Workers deserve to know which employers are taking health and safety seriously and which are not," said Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan, who calls the site a good first step.
Alberta Jobs, Skills, Training and Labour Minister Kyle Fawcett says searching under the old format was time-consuming.
"People would have been very unlikely to put in that time and effort," he said. "Now it's real easy and we think it's in a much more usable format."
However, Fawcett cautioned against taking the list at face value.
"It doesn't necessarily mean that it's an employer with a poor safety record. It is a real assessment of what injury rates, disabling rates occurred that year."
In terms of significant on-the-job injuries, Weisse Johnson was one of top 10 offenders in 2012 – something the company's co-owner feels is misleading.
"Almost all of our injuries are related to cuts and the odd twisted ankle carrying product in and out of houses," said Dennis Johnson.
However, he said the company has never had a serious injury.
"It's a little disheartening because people might get in their minds that we're a bad company to work for and that we don't work for their safety," he said. "Safety is one of our core values here at Weiss Johnson.
While McGowan is pleased the information is out there, he hopes the government uses it to inspect and investigate employers with the highest rates of death and injury.
"The real test is whether or not the government will use this information to actually force employers to clean up their acts when it comes to workplace health and safety."
The site covers the period from 2008 to 2012, the most recent information available. Fawcett says the government is looking at updating the site.
CBC, 2014 June 11
AFL calls for action on worker safety during Day of Mourning For Workers Killed or Injured On the Job
EDMONTON – Alberta is one of most dangerous places in Canada to be a worker, but the government has an opportunity to make change for the better.
While taking part in ceremonies for the International Day of Mourning for Workers Killed or Injured on the Job today, Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan urged government to use the current Employment Standards Review process to make the province’s workplaces safer.
“Alberta is the only place in Canada where we find so many exemptions and lack of safety inspections, enforcement, or prosecutions. There is more impunity in this province than anywhere else in Canada. It is the best place in Canada for employers to get away with unsafe work, and remains one of the most dangerous places in Canada to be a worker,” McGowan said at the Edmonton District Labour Council’s Day of Mourning ceremony at Grant Notley Park in Edmonton at 6 p.m.
The AFL has a ten-point plan for worker safety on the job, which includes more resources for prosecutions, administrative fines with teeth, posting safety records online, joint worker-employer health and safety committees, eliminating child labour in mainstream workplaces, covering farm workers under occupational health and safety standards, an inquiry into workplace carcinogens and occupational disease, more resources for targeted inspections and enforcement in dangerous industries, ending bonuses to WCB workers for denying claims and increasing WCB premiums in dangerous industries.
So far, the Government of Alberta has refused to implement these common-sense recommendations. Alberta’s workplace fatalities have increased from 43 in 2011 to 52 last year.
THE DAY OF MOURNING BY THE NUMBERS
99 deaths of occupational disease in Alberta
52 deaths from workplace incidents/accidents
37 deaths from motor vehicle collisions on the job
Number of charges laid, at April 28, 2014, by Alberta Crown Prosecutors, stemming from the 52 workplace fatalities in 2013: 0
Number of charges laid, at April 28, 2014, by Alberta Crown Prosecutors stemming from the 51 workplace fatalities in 2012: 2
Number of convictions so far for 2012-13 workplace fatalities: 0
Year Premier Redford promised to include farm workers in Occupational health and Safety standards: 2011
Year Alberta stopped reporting farm worker deaths: 2012
Number of provinces that share Alberta’s exemption for industrial feedlots, grain operations, and other farm workplaces from Occupational Health and Safety Standards: 0
Number of provinces that do not have joint worker-employer health and safety committees: 1 (Alberta)
Number of provinces that allow children between 12-14 to work in some restaurant and retail jobs: 1 (Alberta)-30-
Olav Rokne, Communications Director, Alberta Federation of Labour at 780.289.6528 (cell)
or via e-mail email@example.com
Federation of Labour Reminds Premier of Her Promise to Improve Farm Safety Regulations
Edmonton – Farm workers deserve straight answers as to why Alison Redford has not fulfilled her promise of workplace rights for agricultural workers.
In a letter to the Premier on Aug. 20, the Alberta Federation of Labour reminded Redford of promises that she made during the 2011 Progressive Conservative leadership race. During the race, Redford told the Calgary Herald editorial board: “We have to have farm workers protected. Hired employees on farms are entitled to that protection.”
Alberta remains the only province 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.
Provincial Occupational Health and Safety Regulations specifically omit agricultural worksites.
“It’s been two years and we’ve seen little movement to fulfill this commitment,” Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan wrote in the letter. “Of course, politicians are allowed to change their minds when new facts come to light or circumstances change. But citizens deserve an explanation.”
The Government of Alberta also continues to ignore the advice of one of its own judges. A judicial inquiry into the death of farm worker Kevin Chandler found Alberta’s discriminatory practice against farm workers unjustifiable.
Judge Peter Barley, the Provincial Court Judge assigned to the Inquiry wrote in his report, “No logical explanation was given as to why paid employees on a farm are not covered by the same workplace legislation as non-farm employees.”
The Alberta Federation of Labour declared August 20 to be Farm Workers Day at the organization’s 2005 Convention, and has been calling on the government to allow farm workers the same protections as most Alberta workers enjoy.
“The people who work in Alberta’s vibrant agricultural sector deserve the same protections as any other Albertans,” McGowan said. “It’s clear from her comments in 2011, that Alison Redford understands this. I would like to know the Premier’s reasoning for not turning her commitment into action.”-30-
Olav Rokne, Communications Director, Alberta Federation of Labour at 780.289.6528 (cell)
or via e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
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
EDMONTON – The widespread wildcat strike that started last week with guards at Edmonton's Remand Centre and spread to facilities throughout the province took a dramatic turn Monday night.
After hearing hours of arguments from both sides, a Court of Queen's Bench justice found the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees in contempt of court for defying an earlier Alberta Labour Board ruling ordering its members back to work.
Justice J.D. Rooke fined the union $100,000, saying that rises to $250,000 if the strike isn't over by noon Tuesday. By Wednesday at noon, it will be $500,000 — and the union must pay half a million dollars for each day after that.
Meanwhile, the labour board also issued granted a cease and desist order to the province that ordered all union public sector workers who walked out in support of the guards to return to their jobs.
The government went to the courts after some provincial sheriffs, court clerks and social workers picketed outside courthouses in Edmonton, Calgary, Lethbridge and other communities in solidarity with jail guards, who were off the job at 10 correctional facilities.
The job action by sheriffs and staff forced the postponement of some family court cases and delayed some trials and other court proceedings.
The illegal walkout began Friday after two guards at the massive new $580-million Edmonton Remand Centre were suspended when they complained about safety at the facility, which started taking inmates for the first time earlier this month.
Deputy premier Thomas Lukaszuk said the government won't deal with the union's safety concerns at the jail until the guards go back to work.
Lukaszuk blamed the dispute on a personal conflict between a union official at the jail and some of his supervisors.
"This illegal strike by AUPE, frankly, I have tell you, is irresponsible and it is causing Albertans a great deal of grief," he said.
"A great deal of this unrest is caused simply by someone not liking their boss. This is simply unacceptable."
The government estimates the strike is costing the government more than $1.5 million per day to pay for RCMP and other police to staff Alberta's jails.
Todd Ross, the chairman of the union local representing guards at the remand centre, said it is the safety conditions at the jail that are unacceptable.
Ross said 800 inmates were moved into the new jail over a two-day period from other remand centres, which was too many too fast.
He said glass in the facility is breakable, there aren't enough video monitoring cameras and not enough officers are issued with pepper spray.
"This is all about occupational health and safety concerns," said Ross, who has been a corrections officer for 28 years.
"It is a life and death situation. We need to get some meaningful talks going with this government."
The union didn't want to comment on Monday night's developments until they had been studied.
"We need to evaluate it (the directive) very carefully and consider our legal options," said AUPE president Guy Smith.
Earlier in the evening, there had been reports on Twitter that Lukaszuk and Smith had been spotted together talking over a drink.
Defence lawyer Deborah Hatch said the already burdened court system can't operate properly with the disruptions posed by the strike. She said the clerk who was to staff a trial she was to be involved in Monday was out on the picket line.
"It is absolutely not business as usual. There are jury trials that are supposed to start this morning. There are other types of trials in provincial court and Court of Queen's Bench. We don't have the people to function," said Hatch, former president of the Edmonton Criminal Trial Lawyers Association.
"Even one day of this will bring this system really to its knees."
Just days before the Edmonton Remand Centre opened, the union said it found five pages of design flaws after touring the facility. Union leaders asked the province to delay the transfer of prisoners from the old remand centre until changes were made.
The Alberta government said the facility was deemed safe by occupational health inspectors.
Lukaszuk said the union has presented a list of 10 demands that must be met before the guards will return to work, but he said health and safety is only one of the items on the list.
He said the union is in the middle of collective bargaining and he suggested it might be using the strike as a pressure tactic.
Smith said that isn't true.
"This has nothing to do with contract negotiations," Smith said. "This has everything to do with health and safety for the correctional police officers on the front lines."
Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, called on Premier Alison Redford to get involved to help resolve the dispute.
McGowan said the union's safety concerns should have been dealt with properly by the government weeks or months ago.
He accused Lukaszuk of using bullying tactics instead of properly managing the situation.
"We need cooler heads to prevail, and that is not going to happen as long as a hot-head like Thomas Lukaszuk is involved in the process," McGowan said.
Government officials said Premier Alison Redford has been fully briefed on the illegal strike and the walkouts by other public sector union members, but will not be directly involved in the dispute.
Metro, Monday, Apr. 29, 2013
Byline: John Cotter, Canadian Press
AFL urges premier to address health and safety concerns of workers so situation can be resolved
Edmonton – Alberta’s largest labour group, representing 160,000 workers, is urging the premier to negotiate in good faith with striking prison workers.
In a statement released today, the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) said that the wildcat strike at Alberta’s prisons was spinning out of control because of the government’s intransigence toward legitimate worker concerns.
“The government needs to stop focusing on bullying workers and start focusing on their legitimate concerns about health and safety,” AFL president Gil McGowan said. “If they do that, this situation will be resolved.”
The Federation expressed solidarity with the workers at the new $580-million Remand Centre, who have been raising health and safety concerns for several months leading up to the strike. What started as a walkout by 70 workers has escalated with strikes at 10 provincial facilities, and hundreds of workers multiple unions staying out of the prisons due to deteriorating conditions, and out-of-control inmates.
“Quite frankly, the deputy premier shouldn’t be grandstanding about how he won’t negotiate,” McGowan said. “It’s not productive, it’s not going to resolve this issue, and it’s not in the public interest.”
At noon on Saturday, more than 500 Alberta Federation of Labour members representing 29 affiliated unions marched on the Alberta Labour Relations Board (ALRB) in an impromptu demonstration of solidarity with the prison workers.
“These workers did the brave thing, the right thing for demanding a safe workplace,” Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan said. “And the government has responded by trying to silence them, telling them to put themselves in unnecessary risk, and telling them it’s not even something they’re willing to talk about.”
Gil McGowan, President, Alberta Federation of Labour at 780-218-9888 (cell)
Olav Rokne, AFL Communications Director at 780-289-6528 (cell) or via email email@example.com.
Seeds of reform fail to germinate when report omits update to Occupational Health and Safety Act
Edmonton – Workers in Alberta's agriculture sector deserve better says the Alberta Federation of Labour.
The Alberta Farm Safety Advisory (AFSA) Council report, which was released by the government this week, failed to recommend the inclusion of farm workers in Alberta's Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA). Farm workers are the only workers in Alberta who are excluded from the Act.
“Alison Redford promised change to Alberta's agricultural workers, but she's letting those promises go fallow.” Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan said. “More than 300 farm workers are seriously injured every year. Seventeen die each year. The results of this report will do little to change that.”
The AFSA Council had representatives from industry and government, but only one labour representative. Recommendations included:
Strategic, Province-wide Coordination and Awareness; Enhanced Educational Resources, Training and Certification; Farm-Related Policies and Guidelines; and Strengthening the agriculture workers component of the current Temporary Foreign Worker Advisory Office.
“Many farms in Alberta are already well run. These are the kinds of farms that will follow all the new guidelines, and all the new policies that come out of this report,” McGowan said. “The problem is that there are farms where you see the appalling labour practices. Those are the ones that won't improve their behaviour unless there is regulatory change.”
The report, which began almost two years ago, has been complete for more than a year, but the Alberta Government had been sitting on it. It was only made public on Tuesday. During the lead-up to her selection as Premier, Alison Redford promised to provide OHSA protection for farm workers.
“Alberta's agricultural workers deserve the same protections, same health and safety regulation that every other Albertan enjoys,” McGowan said. “Until the government acts, there will continue to be too many workplace accidents on Alberta's farms and agricultural operations.”-30-
Gil McGowan, President, Alberta Federation of Labour at 780-218-9888 (cell)
Olav Rokne, AFL Communications Director at 780-289-6528 (cell) or via email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ignores recommendation from freedom of information commissioner
Alberta Human Services refuses to release information that would identify the province's most unsafe, "high-risk employers," effectively brushing off a ruling by the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner.
"I think it's frightening," said Linda McKay-Panos of the Alberta Civil Liberties Research Centre at the University of Calgary.
"It could be interpreted to mean that they don't want people to know about certain activities, and that is troubling because the information that is held by the government is our information. It belongs to the public and we have a right to know it."
CBC News filed a freedom of information request to Alberta Human Services in July 2012 seeking all records related to a database containing the workplace safety records of more than 150,000 employers.
The department maintains a searchable online database but it does not allow comparative searches to determine the worst employers.
The department refused to release any information citing several exemptions contained in the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIP).
University of Alberta political scientist Jim Lightbody is questioning the government's commitment to transparency in light of this case. University of Alberta political scientist Jim Lightbody is questioning the government's commitment to transparency in light of this case. (CBC )
The department claimed, for example, that release of the information would harm business interests. It further claimed release of the information could "harm a law-enforcement matter" and it also claimed the information constituted "advice" under the act and was therefore exempt.
Catherine Taylor, a senior portfolio officer with the FOIP commissioner's office, reviewed the department's refusal at the request of CBC.
But even before Taylor began the review, the department told her it would not "change its decision regardless of (her) findings."
Taylor subsequently ruled none of the exemptions cited by Human Services was valid.
"I would recommend that (Alberta Human Services) release the records," Taylor wrote. "However, as I mentioned above I have already been informed that a decision change will not occur."
CBC News has been granted an inquiry by the FOIP commissioner into the department's refusal to provide the information.
But even if the commissioner orders the department to release the information, it could refuse.
CBC News would then have no option but to seek the release of the records through the courts, a process that could take years.
Professor questions commitment to transparency
Alison Redford ran for the leadership of the provincial Progressive Conservative Party, and in the subsequent election, on a reform platform, including increased transparency and accountability.
To that end, Redford even created a junior ministry of transparency, accountability and reform which is now reviewing the current FOIP Act for the stated purpose of improving public access to information.
University of Alberta political scientist Jim Lightbody said this case "speaks volumes about the Redford government's commitment to freedom of information and transparency in governing.
"I think what we are learning is that, as we move on in the Redford years, transparency is a very fluid commodity," Lightbody said.
"(We're learning) that transparency works when it shows the government in a good light; transparency works when it can promote the government's agenda on tax reform and budget accountability; transparency evaporates when it concerns some things that may reflect negatively on specific Alberta businesses."
Auditor general criticized Alberta Human Services
Nearly 51,000 workers were injured, and another 123 were killed in Alberta in 2011, according to Workers Compensation Board statistics.
In 2010, Alberta Auditor General, Merwan Saher conducted an audit of the department.
Saher reported the department not only did not adequately identify high-risk employers and workers, it also did not apply adequate enforcement to deter them from breaking the law.
Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan believes the government is putting workers at risk by refusing to release the information. Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan believes the government is putting workers at risk by refusing to release the information. (CBC)
Saher recommended the department develop criteria to identify high-risk employers and workers, and step up enforcement.
By 2012, the department still had not responded to his recommendations so he repeated them.
"The department still has not sufficiently defined high-risk employers and workers," Saher's 2012 report stated.
"It also does not have processes that will comprehensively identify high-risk employers and workers and apply enforcement actions that will deter them from breaking the law.
"Although the department has various enforcement tools to motivate employers to improve workplace safety, it has limited enforcement actions for the few high-risk employers and workers who fail to comply with the law."
Over the past week, neither Human Services Minister Dave Hancock nor his press secretary, Craig Loewen, have responded to repeated interview requests made by CBC through the department.
But in an email last week, department spokeswoman Kathy Telfer said it is still working on the high-risk criteria.
CBC News told Telfer it wanted to ask Hancock how his department justified withholding records that the FOI commissioner had ruled should be released. The email from Telfer provided information about department safety initiatives but did not answer that question.
Alberta Federation of Labour also failed to get records
Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan said the federation tried for years to obtain the high-risk employer records through FOIP, but finally gave up.
"This bad-boss list is not just a list of a handful of employers who once in a while ignore the health and safety of their workers," McGowan said.
"These are repeat offenders who have been on the government's radar for years, and who continue to be a problem and continue to put their employees at risk of injury, and perhaps even death.
"So this is information that working Albertans deserve to know, and it's what people need to know about their bosses, and about their prospective bosses.
"And by withholding this information from the public, we feel very strongly that the government is actually putting Albertans at risk, and they're doing that unnecessarily.
"And to have them continue to hide this information, even though the information commissioner has ordered them very explicitly to disclose it, is just adding insult to injury. "
CBC News, Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013
ST. ALBERT - A Canadian subsidiary of Chinese state-owned oil giant Sinopec has been ordered to pay $1.5 million in penalties for failing to ensure the safety of two Chinese workers killed in a 2007 tank collapse at a work site in northern Alberta.
Sinopec Shanghai Engineering Company Canada Ltd. pleaded guilty to three charges under the Occupational Health and Safety Act in September. It was given the maximum $500,000 fine for each charge in a St. Albert courtroom Thursday.
The total penalty is the biggest workplace safety fine in Alberta's history and one of the biggest in Canada.
Two charges were related to the deaths of the two temporary foreign workers and the third was connected to two workers who were seriously injured.
As part of a creative sentencing agreement between Crown prosecutors and SSEC lawyers, $1.3 million of the fine will be used to educate temporary foreign workers on their legal rights.
Workers Ge Genbao, 28, and Lui Hongliang, 33, were killed on April 24, 2007 when the roof structure of a multi-storey metal holding tank collapsed at a work site 70 kilometres north of Fort McMurray. The site was part of the Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. $10.8-billion Horizon project.
Court has heard that SSEC Canada did not get the tank construction plan certified by an engineer. The wires securing the tank were not strong enough to hold up in even moderate winds, according to an agreed statement of facts.
"The accident almost had a sense of inevitability to it," said provincial court Judge John Maher. The judge said he was struck by the extent of the failure to comply by safety standards.
"This is a particularly egregious case," Maher said. "The size of the penalty is directionally proportional to the consequences of the act. It's hard to imagine in this case why it would not be a maximum penalty."
Crown prosecutor Marshall Hopkins said he was confident such a massive penalty would be an effective deterrent for other companies.
Kevin Flaherty, executive director of the Alberta Workers' Health Centre, said the money enables his group to "do some good work with a bad situation."
The $1.3 million will be used in a three-year program to train 45 people to educate temporary foreign workers about their rights and Alberta's workplace health laws. Flaherty said such workers are particularly vulnerable because they fear loss of their work visas if they speak up.
"They can't just walk across the street and get another job," Flaherty said. "We need to be a much better job of treating these workers as people when they arrive."
Flaherty expects the education program will reach 5,500 workers and spread further by word of mouth.
The Alberta Federation of Labour was not impressed by the court decision and called the fine "a slap on the wrist" that will not be a deterrent.
"One-and-a half-million dollars doesn't even amount to a rounding error in the annual budget of a monstrous global corporation like Sinopec," AFL president Gil McGowan said in a prepared statement. "This fine does nothing to dissuade them from playing fast and loose with the safety of their workforce."
SSEC was the direct employer of the workers and contracted by CNRL. SSEC recruited 132 Mandarin-speaking Chinese workers for the tank project.
The original plan was to build the tank walls first, then use them to support the roof while it was under construction. That plan changed when the project fell behind schedule.
CNRL approved the construction change, but SSEC did not prepare any formal written procedures that should have been certified by a professional engineer.
The construction of 13 tanks began on April 2, 2007. The collapse occurred three weeks later.
Hongliang, an electrician, was struck by a steel girder while standing on the partially completed wall. He died at the scene. His son, in China, was only a year old at the time. Genbao, a scaffolder, was on the floor of the tank and was crushed by falling steel. He died on the way to hospital. He is survived by four older sisters in China.
On Thursday afternoon, SSEC Canada issued a statement that expressed regret for the deaths and said it accepted Maher's ruling.
Sinopec had tried to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada on the grounds that it had no official presence in Canada and was not under the jurisdiction of a provincial justice system. The nation's top court refused to hear that appeal.
The Edmonton Journal, Thursday, Jan. 24, 2013
Byline: Ryan Cormier