Yesterday's report from Alberta's Auditor General reveals a fundamental flaw that lies at the heart of the Alberta government's approach to workplace health and safety.
It's a flaw that threatens the lives and well-being of thousands of working Albertans. And it's a flaw that needs to be fixed immediately, says the president of Alberta's largest labour advocacy group.
"The problem is that this government just can't bring itself to crack down on employers - even if those employers have repeatedly violated the law," says AFL president Gil McGowan.
"The Conservatives pride themselves on being pro-business. But nothing justifies allowing bad bosses to ignore workplace safety laws and, in the process, put their employees at risk."
The Auditor General's report identified "serious weaknesses in the (government's) system for dealing with persistent non-compliance." In particular, the report said the government doesn't have a clear "decision ladder for escalating compliance action from promotion and education to enforcement."
The Auditor General says he identified more than 100 companies that have repeatedly broken health and safety laws and which have workplace injury rates three to four times higher than the provincial average. However, as a result of inadequate system of enforcement, these companies have been allowed to continue operating without penalty.
Many of these same employers have even been given so-called Certificates of Recognition (CORs) that are supposed to be reserved for employers who meet high safety standards. CORs are valuable because they can be used to help win contracts and qualify for reduced WCB premiums.
"You know your system is badly broken when companies are not only allowed to break the law, but they're actually handed rewards that are supposed to be reserved for companies that play by the rules," says McGowan.
McGowan is asking for an urgent meeting with Employment Minister Thomas Lukaszuk to discuss a timeline for implementing the Auditor General's recommendations on enforcement.
"Frankly, this situation has been allowed to go on for too long," says McGowan. "Voluntary compliance can only take you so far. Sometimes, for the good of all Albertans, the government has to be willing to take out the big stick and punish employers who break the law. This is a lesson the Conservative government needs to learn - and learn soon. Because, if they don't, more working Albertans are going to pay with their lives."
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Gil McGowan, President, AFL @ 780-483-3021 or 780-218-9888 (cell)