Alberta remains one of the most dangerous places in Canada to work, especially for young workers: AFL
Edmonton – The Alberta Federation of Labour is responding to Saturday’s death of a 15-year-old worker.
Alberta’s child, youth, and adolescent labour laws are among the worst in Canada, says the AFL. The province had a chance to toughen up those standards in a recent Employment Standards review, but nothing came of it.
“Alberta’s child labour laws are among the most lax in Canada,” says Siobhan Vipond, AFL Secretary Treasurer. “The AFL has repeatedly made recommendations to improve working conditions and safety standards, specifically for young workers. This weekend’s tragic news is yet another reminder that much more needs to be done to keep Albertans safe at work.”
“Just a few months ago, Employment Minister Thomas Lukaszuk launched a review of Alberta’s workplace laws. But the first item up for review was a question about expanding child labour,” says Vipond. “Instead of rushing more young workers onto potentially unsafe work sites, we need to keep young workers safe. Today, Alberta is one of the most unsafe places for young people to work.”
The AFL’s submission on April 11, 2014 to the Employment Standards contained several pages of recommendations on young workers.
"Alberta needs targeted inspections of workplaces that employ 15-17 year olds, especially in construction and other comparatively dangerous occupations,” says Vipond. “The AFL made urgent recommendations earlier this year, and this past weekend we are sadly reminded why these changes are so desperately needed in Alberta.”
A recent survey showed 49.7% of 797 adolescents surveyed had experienced at least one workplace injury in the previous year.
For 15-17 year olds, the research has shown young, minor workers are particularly vulnerable to abuses in the workplace, such as illegal deductions, unsafe work, handling of hazardous materials, and sexual harassment.
For that reason, the AFL recommended a program of targeted inspections and a special, mandated health and safety training programme for employers who hire 15-17 year old Albertans. Alberta must also review whether some industrial activities or occupations are prohibited for adolescents, particularly in forklift operations and construction work.
Brad Lafortune, Alberta Federation of Labour at 780.901.1177 (cell)
or via e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
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
Just because students across Alberta will soon be moving from classrooms for jobsites, doesn't mean the learning should stop, according to the province - while the Alberta Federation of Labour questions the approach.
Employment and Immigration has launched an advertising blitz designed to educate young workers about their rights and responsibilities on the job.
"Parents and kids are thinking about summer jobs and, as younger people are going to be moving into the workforce in the next little while, we want them to know the kinds of things to be aware of - the kinds of things to ask about on the job," spokesman Janice Schroeder said yesterday.
"We found that younger workers are the least likely to know what their rights are and they're also the least likely to ask what their responsibilities are."
One ad, titled "What you need to know about working this summer," lists points including that overtime must be paid if a shift is longer that eight hours; a workday cannot be more than 12 hours, including breaks; minimum wage is $8.40 an hour; and parents must provide written consent for children between the ages of 12 and 14 who are working.
The ad also provides a link and telephone numbers for more information.
LISTENING AND WATCHING
Schroeder said the department polices the system through a combination of listening and watching.
"If parents are concerned or if young workers or colleagues or anybody is concerned, they can call our contact centre and indicate their concerns - and what workers are being asked to do," she said.
"And we also have the inspection-driven side, so where there are sectors where we might be concerned, we'll go visit employers."
Schroeder said Employment and Immigration received 4,100 complaints and performed 278 payroll inspections during the 2006-07 fiscal year.
But Nancy Furlong, secretary-treasurer of the 140,000-member AFL, questioned the department's ability to set or enforce standards - and workers' ability to insist on them.
She said the department is more focused on mediation than enforcing the law in individual cases.
"You might see an adult standing up for themself, but even that is rare because they're at risk - Employment Standards doesn't take on employers and doesn't protect (workers) from dismissal when they raise those kinds of issues."
Furlong conceded the booming economy means students have a fair bit of employment choice. But she worries employers stretched for staff can still insist on long hours or inappropriate working conditions.
And while children as young as 12 are barred from certain kinds of work, Furlong wonders if the move to allow Albertans so young to work in the first place - and help alleviate the labour shortage - even makes sense.
"It's our point of view that the 12-year-olds should be playing and going to school rather than working," she said.
Furlong added the government should consider reaching teens through popular youth-oriented Internet sites.
Edmonton Sun, Sun Apr 20 2008
Byline: Daniel MacIsaac
The Alberta Federation of Labour has learned the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission (AGLC) has altered its policy regarding the hiring of minors to work in bars and lounges. Effectively immediately, bar and lounge owners can apply to use 12-17 year-olds in the kitchen area of their establishments.
The AFL received a copy of an email (dated March 15, 2007) widely distributed by the Canadian Restaurant and Food Services Association (CRFA) trumpeting the decision. An AFL staffer subsequently confirmed the change this morning with the AGLC's Executive Director of Regulatory Affairs. This follows the decision last year by the Alberta government to allow restaurants to hire 12 to 14 year-olds.
"Minors aren't allowed in bars, but they can toil away in the kitchens of bars. The logic of this is beyond belief," says AFL President Gil McGowan. "No one can convince me that a bar atmosphere is appropriate for a young teenager. Drunk patrons, worldly staff and alcohol sales add up to an adult environment, both in the bar and behind the scenes. It is no place for a 12-year old."
The AGLC indicates the change was made at the request of the CRFA due to their claims of labour shortages.
"The Alberta government has its priorities completely backward," says McGowan. "It is supposed to protect our kids, but instead it slavishly serves the self-interests of an industry with a spotty employment track record."
"Hiring 12-year olds to work in restaurants is indefensible enough. Hiring them to work in bars is a whole new level of appalling."
The AGLC says it will weigh the merits of each application, denying applications for employers who have breached their licenses in some way. "I�ll believe it when I see it," responds McGowan. "Where are the checks and balances?"
"Who will stand up to protect our young people from being exploited? Clearly not the Conservative government," McGowan concludes.
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For More Information
Gil McGowan Cell: (780) 218-9888
When the Alberta government changed employment standards rules governing 12-year olds working in restaurants last year, one of the big mysteries was "why". That question was answered today, when an official from McDonald's admitted they approached the government and asked for the change.
"It is clear today that the government - behind closed doors and without public consultation - relaxed rules protecting 12- and 13-year olds because one employer asked for it," says AFL President Gil McGowan. "It says volumes about how regulations are made in this province. If a well-heeled donor of the Conservatives asks for it - they get it."
Max Pasley Enterprises is a large donor to the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party. Between 2001 and 2004, the company donated a total of $15,000 to the party. It donated $5,000 in each of 2001 and 2004, and $2,500 in 2002 and again in 2003. Max Pasley Enterprises is one of Alberta's 50 largest companies, employing over 3,000 workers. It is McDonald's largest franchise operator in the province. Since the new rules, Max Pasley has submitted forms for over 70 adolescent workers - by far the largest number of young workers in the province.
In today's Edmonton Journal, Gavin Stafford, a senior marketing executive with McDonald's is quoted as saying that Max Pasley Enterprises and the parent company asked for the new rules. "I understood that there were people from McDonald's HR department and from Pasley Enterprises that met with, if not the minister, with somebody in the department." (Edmonton Journal, B5)
"This completes the circle," says McGowan. "An important friend of the Conservatives feels bogged down by paperwork and stringent government regulations. They approach decision-makers in the government to relax the rules. And within months the rules are relaxed."
"Albertans should be very troubled about how government policy is made in this province. Who won't they sell out to satisfy their Tory friends?"
The AFL has been a vocal critic of the rules change, arguing it leaves young workers vulnerable to unsafe working conditions and exploitation. "If the government doesn't know where the 12-year olds are working, they can't protect them," observes McGowan. The AFL is calling for a ban on employing anyone under the age of 15 in restaurants.
The rule change eliminated the requirement that an employer must seek a permit before they can hire a person under the age of 15. The extra rules limited the number of employers who wanted to hire adolescents, and ensured that Employment Standards and Workplace Health and Safety officers knew which workplaces were hiring adolescents, and could inspect them.
"This is government by pay-off. If you give enough to the party, you can change the law. Where this leaves 12-year olds and other Albertans is another question." McGowan concludes.
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For more information call:
Gil McGowan, AFL President @ (780) 915-4599 (cell)
EDMONTON-Nine months into new rules allowing restaurants to hire 12 and 13 year olds it is clear they are failing to protect young workers says the Alberta Federation of Labour today. The AFL released the list of employers who have submitted the paperwork allowing them to employ adolescents. The AFL also announced its intent to post the entire list on its website (see the list here) and update it regularly. The AFL received copies of the forms through a FOIP request.
Between July 1, 2005 and March 31, 2006, the first nine months of the new rules for hiring children, only 160 forms were submitted the required paperwork to the government. This is a fraction of the number of applications the government received before the new rules. According to government figures, 552 permits to hire kids under 14 were granted in 2004, and 359 permits in the first four months of 2005.
"The only explanation for the stunning drop in the number of forms is that employers are not sending in the legally-required paperwork," says AFL President Gil McGowan. "They are taking advantage of the lax nature of the new rules."
"Albertans should be deeply troubled by this development. The government no longer has any idea where most of the 12 year olds are working. If they don't know where they are, they can't protect them. This leaves these young kids vulnerable to unsafe work and to being ripped off."
The list of employers who have submitted forms reveals much about who is hiring adolescent workers. "It is big, fast food chains, for the most part," says McGowan. "The restaurant industry claimed it would be mostly mom-and-pop shops. That hasn't been the case."
One employer alone accounts for over 70 submitted forms. Max Pasley Enterprises, owners of dozens of McDonald�s restaurants in Alberta submitted dozens of forms in a three month period. Max Pasley is listed as one of the 50 largest employers in Alberta, employing more than 3,000 workers.
Before July 2005, employers were required to apply for special permission to hire anyone under the age of 14. Under the new rules, they do not require prior approval, but must still submit a Safety Checklist which demonstrates they received parental consent and have taken other precautions to protect the young worker.
"No one can make me believe the demand for hiring kids under the age of 14 has suddenly disappeared," adds McGowan. "Nine months ago, the government was saying that requests for permits was growing at about 20% per year. Employers have decided the government is irrelevant - and that is bad news for the kids working in restaurants."
The AFL also announced it is publicly posting the list of employers on its website. It will update the list as it receives new information. "Albertans have a right to know which employers are hiring 12-year olds to work in their restaurants," says McGowan. "As consumers the knowledge will help them decide how they wish to spend their money."
The AFL makes no comments about whether the employers who submit forms are safe and fair workplaces. "We have no information about the working conditions at these workplaces. We are simply providing the information to the public and letting them decide for themselves," notes McGowan.
The AFL also renewed its call to scrap the new rules for young workers. "The move to allow 12 and 13 year-olds to work in restaurants is a disaster. The government needs to admit its error and return to the old rules, which did a better job protecting children."
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For more information call:
Gil McGowan, AFL President @ (780) 915-4599 (cell)
[Edmonton] The Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) today released documents it received through a FOIP request that show the Alberta government actively involved only the Alberta Restaurant and Foodservices Association (ARFA), the main lobby group for restaurant employers, in the drafting of a new policy relaxing rules allowing 12-year-olds to work in restaurants.
In an email dated March 15, 2004 between government officials, it says "we have approval to proceed with the proposed changes for the adolescent permit process, subject to us getting ARFA on side." Other documents proceed to show that one, and possibly two, meetings occurred between HRE officials and ARFA in April 2004.
These meetings occurred 15 months before the implementation of the policy on June 3, 2005. They are the only consultations recorded in the documents - no other group appears to have been contacted. Employment Standards rules were changed earlier this year to allow restaurants to hire 12 and 13 year-olds without asking government permission.
"The significance of these documents is they show the government went out of its way to make sure a policy satisfied a particular set of employers, at the expense of workers and the general public," says AFL President Gil McGowan. "They did not consult with any other stakeholder. They did not hold public consultations. Just a behind-closed-doors meeting with the employer association followed by a quiet, under-the-radar-screen implementation."
"In 15 months, the only group HRE could get around to contacting was the employer organization?" asks McGowan.
"A policy that has wide-ranging ramifications for Albertans, and the only people they can think to consult is the employers? It is like changing smoking laws and only consulting the tobacco industry."
McGowan suggests the documents are just the latest evidence of a one-sided approach to policy making by the Conservatives. "For the Conservatives, the needs of employers are paramount, which means the interests of the rest of us take a back seat. This is how bad policy is created - and the 12-year-old policy is clearly BAD policy."
"There is a culture of one-sidedness in this government," McGowan points out. "At the LRB, Chairs are drafting legislation with employer lawyers to rip up collective agreements. In Employment Standards, officials are holding closed-door sessions with employers to craft policy putting 12-year-olds to work. What kind of democracy is this?"
The documents also reveal:
- HRE Officials informed restaurant employers of the change three days before informing their own staff
- HRE Officials actively participated in disseminating information about the change, including writing articles for ARFA's newsletter before the policy was implemented
- The Human Resources Minister was informed of the policy proposal in February of 2004, contradicting public statements made by Mike Cardinal
- Policy deliberations began as early as September 22, 2003 - a full 21 months before the policy was implemented
The AFL will be pressuring the government for more transparency and even-handedness in future policy changes. The AFL continues to oppose the new rules regarding 12-year-olds, and renews its call for its repeal.
"The government tried to downplay this issue as simply a small administrative change. The FOIP documents reveal quite the opposite. They knew it was a controversial issue and they intentionally kept the public in the dark." McGowan concluded.
For more information contact:
Gil McGowan, AFL President at 780.915-4599 (cell) or 780.483-3021 (wk)
AFL FOIP Request Documents
Adolescents in Restaurants
Timeline of Key Points in Process
The AFL's FOIP Request was for all records pertaining to the decision to amend the permit process for the hiring of adolescents in restaurants. 320 pages were responsive. 128 pages were removed in their entirety.
September 22, 2003
First discussion about changing the policy (handwritten notes, p. 6)
January 14, 2004
First draft policy appears to be circulated among HRE staff
February 24, 2004
Advice to Minister sent on issue
March 15, 2004
Policy approved internally, email saying proposal is "subject to us getting ARFA on side" (p. 58)
April 8, 2004
Date of meeting between HRE staff and representatives of ARFA to discuss policy change (p. 88)
April 22, 2004
Possible second meeting (or re-scheduling of first meeting) with ARFA representatives
May 16, 2004
No decision made, but proceeding with proposal (p. 98)
May 27, 2005
HRE staff prepare newsletter article for ARFA (p. 103)
June 3, 2005
New rules take effect
June 3, 2005
Letter to ARFA members (employers) informing of the new policy (p 227-229)
June 6, 2005
Email to restaurant industry association informing of new process, including reference that HRE's "Partnership Consultant has also been in contact with your regarding this new process." (p. 130)
June 6, 2005
Memo to HRE Employment Standards staff informing of policy change
The Alberta Federation of Labour is demanding the government do more than simply give Canadian Midway Co a warning for employment law violations at Edmonton's Klondike Days and the Calgary Stampede.
"North American Midway, parent company of the Canadian Midway Co, has been grossly exploiting young South African workers," says AFL President Gil McGowan. "We have teenagers who have been worked 17 hours a day. They have endured terrible living conditions, and, at the end of the day, they have made less than minimum wage for their labour."
"I have news for the Alberta government - these are not "minor" violations," says McGowan. "By brushing aside the blatant mistreatment of these young workers, the government is sending the wrong message to employers everywhere in the province. I assure the government that most Albertans do not agree with the whitewash of this employer's actions."
He is particularly upset with the sly 'wink and nod' attitude of the government. "What's the point of having rules if they're not enforced? Rules without real consequences are not rules at all," says McGowan
In fact, McGowan is convinced that most employers in the province would not agree with the lack of penalties in this case. "One bad actor like this, if left unpunished, could tarnish the image of all Alberta companies," says McGowan.
"This government needs to do a 180 degree turn in its attitudes to working Albertans," concludes McGowan. "Immediately reversing this decision to do nothing would be a good place to start."
EDMONTON-The death of a 14-year boy working with heavy equipment at the Reynolds Auto and Aircraft Museum in Wetaskiwin is a tragedy that illustrates why children should not be allowed to perform adult jobs, says the president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.
"The provincial government opened a dangerous door last month when they said it was okay for 12 to 14 year-olds to work in restaurants," says Gil McGowan. "And then the Minister of Human Resources went further by telling the media that jobs actually help children build character. I wonder if the minister is singing the same tune today?"
The boy killed in Wetaskiwin did not have a permit to work and would not have been eligible for one even under the newly relaxed rules for child workers. But McGowan says by weakening its rules and being so openly dismissive of critics, the government has created a climate in which the safety of children has been put on the back burner.
"They've created an expectation and acceptance amongst both young people and adults, that kids can - and even should - be working," says McGowan. "It's a green light from the government - one that will likely lead to a repeat of the tragedy we've seen in Wetaskiwin."
McGowan says the government has attempted to pass off responsibility for regulating kids' involvement in the work place, saying it's up to the parents to decide. But he says that's not fair to parents.
"Young teens can seem very articulate and capable. And, as every parent knows, they can be very persuasive," says McGowan. "It's not hard to imagine a 12 or 13 year-old being able to convince his or her parents that they're ready to take a job. But at the end of the day, no matter how big, smart or tough these kids appear, they're still kids. And they need to be protected."
McGowan says that even the most mature 12 to 14 year olds lack the knowledge and experience to stand up for themselves in the workplace and recognize basic workplace hazards.
"This is not meant as a criticism of kids, but rather as an acknowledgement of reality - kids of that age are not ready to be in an adult work environment, especially if that environment includes dangers such as heavy equipment, fast fryers or cutting machines."
McGowan - who grew up on a farm and remembers pressuring his own parents for permission to work on heavy equipment at an early age - says his heart goes out to the father of the boy killed in Wetaskiwin.
"As a father of young kids, I can't even imagine the pain the family is feeling right now," he says. "But if we want to avoid this kind of thing from happening again, what we need is a strong message from the government. We need firm regulations so that when an eager youngster asks for permission to work, parents can honestly say: �You'll have to wait another few years son. It's the law.'"
With that in mind, McGowan is encouraging the government to reconsider its recent policy changes regarding kids in the workforce.
"Whether it's a machine shop or a fast-food kitchen, kids should not be working there. This tragedy is a wake-up call - one that should not be ignored."
EDMONTON - As of June 3, 2005, Alberta employers can now legally hire 12, 13 and 14-year olds to work in restaurants, the Alberta Federation of Labour revealed today. In a quiet policy change, implemented without public debate or discussion, the Alberta government decided to allow for a blanket exemption to the Employment Standards Code for the entire restaurant industry. Previously, a person had to be 15-years old to work in a restaurant.
"With the stroke of a pen, the government has created a new type of child labour in this province. 12-year olds can now serve you your Big Mac, or prepare your salad," says Gil McGowan. "What's next? Letting 10-year olds work on construction sites?"
"It is particularly appalling that a change of this magnitude was made without public consultation, without debate and without notice," McGowan adds.
"Allowing 12-year olds to work in restaurants is not in the child's interest, it is not in the customers' interest, and it is not in society's interest. Kids that young should be doing two things - going to school and playing," observes McGowan. "There is plenty of time in life for working, why are we in such a rush to push children into the workforce?"
McGowan said the real motivation for the policy change is clear - propping up the interests of restaurant operators.
"Restaurant employers are having a hard time finding adults willing to work for the low wages and lousy conditions they offer, and rather than raise their wages, they get the government to create a whole new pool of vulnerable workers."
The old policy prohibited children under 15 from working, except in select jobs such as newspaper carrier or odd jobs in an office or retail store. If an employer wanted to hire an adolescent (12-14), they needed to get a special exemption for that individual from the Director of Employment Standards.
The new policy now allows restaurants to hire adolescents without permission, if they meet certain safety and consent requirements. This is the first time employment standards have provided an industry-wide exemption to the age limit. (A copy of the new policy is available at www.gov.ab.ca/hre/employmentstandards.)
"The supposed safeguards are nothing of the kind," says McGowan. "They are paper tigers that will do nothing to protect these children against abuse, exploitation or danger." McGowan points out the 'requirements' are that the employer must fill out a checklist, and get the consent of the child and their parent.
"A 12-year old is not in a position to defend themselves against employer abuse. They have no way of recognizing a safety hazard, or understanding their rights," McGowan argues. "We have created a situation where young children are being put in very vulnerable positions. It's a recipe for exploitation."
"Is this the Alberta Advantage?" McGowan asks. "Child labour in our restaurants? I don't think this is what Albertans want."
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For more information contact:
Gil McGowan, AFL President at 780.915.4599 (cell) or 780.483-3021 (wk)