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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 email@example.com
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
Tories turning their backs on 120 years of social progress
Edmonton – Likely Progressive Conservatives (PC) leadership candidate Thomas Lukaszuk is positioning himself as the proponent of businesses putting 12-year-olds to work.
Expanding the scope of duties 12-year-olds can take on is the first item on the agenda in the discussion guide for the current review of the Alberta Employment Standards Code which is being led by Jobs, Skills, Training and Labour Minister Thomas Lukaszuk.
“We know the Tories are always looking backwards, but feeling nostalgia for 1890s-style child labour is extreme even by their standards,” AFL president Gil McGowan said. “Last time the government expanded child labour in Alberta, the public cried foul. This just shows that they aren’t listening to Albertans.”
The discussion guide, which was published under Lukaszuk’s supervision, suggests that among the tasks that 12-year-olds could take on include janitorial work. Many janitors and custodians are required to handle toxic cleaning products as part of their duties.
“In the mid-1980s, Employment Standards did not allow 12- 14-year-old children to work in mainstream workplaces. But in 2005, the PC’s changed opened the door to child labour in Alberta,” McGowan said. “There were rules in place about how many hours children are allowed to work – but in the majority of cases, those rules aren’t being followed. Now Thomas Lukaszuk wants to weaken those rules even further.”
In 2009, a survey found 26,000 adolescent workers aged 12-14 were employed. More than 21 per cent of these 12- to 14-year-olds worked in prohibited occupations (janitorial services, sports teams, working on a golf course). Of those employed, 49.7 per cent of adolescents and 59.0 per cent of young persons reported at least one work-related injury in the previous year. This study also identifies widespread non-reporting of workplace injuries and seemingly ineffective hazard identification and safety training.
“Each time the issue of expanding child labour comes up in Alberta, there’s one guy who has put it on the agenda,” McGowan said.
MEDIA CONTACT:Olav Rokne, Communications Director, Alberta Federation of Labour at 780.289.6528 (cell)
or via e-mail email@example.com
Jobs Minister floats suggestion to increase scope of jobs that 12-year-olds can be hired into
Edmonton – Alberta's largest worker organization is asking the province to take the expansion of child labour off the table.
Today is the deadline for submissions to the review of the Employment Standards Code launched in March by Jobs Minister Thomas Lukaszuk. The first question that the government asks in its discussion guide for the review has to do with expanding the variety of jobs that 12-14 year olds are permitted to do.
In their written submission to the review, the Alberta Federation of Labour expressed strong opposition to any such expansion.
"Albertans don't want 12-year-olds working in restaurant kitchens. They don't want 13-year-olds working as janitors and handling hazardous cleaning materials," Alberta Federation of Labour president McGowan said. "The fact that this is the first item on Mr. Lukaszuk's Employment Standards agenda shows that he did not hear Albertans the last time his PC government expanded child labour. Albertans rejected it then, and they reject it now."
McGowan added that this "is a very odd way for Lukaszuk to launch a bid for the PC leadership."
"Instead of distancing himself from the bad policy that has characterized the government over the past few years, the Minister seems to be determined to make even more bad policy before he resigns to pursue his leadership aspirations. I guess we'll have to start referring to him as the 'child labour' candidate."
The AFL recommendations on Employment Standards are contained in a detailed analysis of provincial work standards. The Executive Summary is here and the full report is here. The recommendations fall in eight categories:
1) End special permits issued by the Director of Employment Standards. There should be one set of rules for every employer, not exceptions for friends and insiders.
2) End the discrimination against workers with disabilities, farm workers, and domestic workers, and include them in basic Employment Standards protections.
3) Get tough on employers who abuse Temporary Foreign Workers, and make sure employers aren't using the TFW Program to drive down wages and working conditions and displace Albertans from jobs
4) Enforce the rules and get tough on employers that try to cheat the system. Recommendations here are tougher fines, more prosecutions, and on-the-spot administrative penalties (ticketing) for employers who break the rules.
5) Fairness for people who work in the restaurant, retail, and hospitality industries by ending illegal deductions, having a clear law on tips, and ending the two-tier minimum wage.
6) Ending the confusion around stat pay and overtime – clean up the language in the legislation and make our laws consistent with the rest of the country.
7) End – don't expand – child labour in Alberta.
8) Recognize we are all juggling work and family by bringing our parental and maternity leave standards up to the standards in the rest of Canada and expanding the number of leaves employees can take without losing job protection.
Olav Rokne, Communications Director, Alberta Federation of Labour at 780.289.6528 (cell)
or via e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
The province is investigating claims by nine former employees of a Whyte Avenue tattoo and bodypiercing shop that they didn't receive severance pay and T4 slips after they were laid off last month.
"It was shocking for us, really," said Sarai Jorgenson, former manager of Strange City Body Modification. "On Tuesday, we had a job and on Wednesday we didn't."
Jorgenson says Revenue Canada froze the company bank account in March.
After employees became concerned, the owner agreed to lay them off.
Former manager Sarai Jorgenson said that everyone is devastated because they loved their jobs and their clients. Former manager Sarai Jorgenson said that everyone is devastated because they loved their jobs and their clients. (CBC)
Instead, workers say their records of employment indicate that they quit, meaning that they can't qualify for Employment Insurance.
Some were able to find new jobs. But others are struggling without EI.
"It's really been devastating for all of us," Jorgenson said. "We loved our jobs, we loved the studio, we loved our clients."
The owner of Strange City, Richard Blaskievich, declined an interview with CBC News, but said he has met with his former employees and is trying to work things out.
CBC News has learned Blaskievich has filed for bankruptcy twice before. His last claim in 2010 lists a debt to Canada Revenue worth more than $430,000.
The former workers have spread word about their plight through social media.
The case has caught the attention of the province's largest labour group, the Alberta Federation of Labour.
"This story frankly smells pretty bad and I think it definitely warrants a pretty serious investigation by the provincial government's employment standards officials," said AFL president Gil McGowan.
The Alberta Employment Standards branch has received a formal complaint and will investigate.
CBC News, Friday, Apr 12 2013
A pilot program that would fast-track the immigration process for trades workers began accepting applications Wednesday is a welcome change for the oilsands, says Oil Sands Developers Group Executive Director Ken Chapman.
However, Chapman says the program doesn't address challenges the natural resource sector has with immigration policies and as a result, the demand for blue-collar workers in Wood Buffalo and the oilsands will likely intensify in 2013.
The changes to the Temporary Foreign Workers program will reduce much of the red tape needed for trained foreign workers that specialize in 43 occupations. Some of these jobs include heavy-duty mechanics, ironworkers, millwrights, electrical work and welders — all jobs that are in short supply in Alberta.
Only 3,000 workers will be admitted through the program, a number Chapman says is problematic.
"That number alone is nowhere near to meeting the needs of Wood Buffalo or the oilsands, let alone other big projects in Canada," says Chapman. "We need skilled workers quickly and we're still competing with other markets with their own labour shortages."
While manufacturing has wavered in the last ten years, natural resources jobs have emerged as key industries for Canada's economic success.
British Columbia and Saskatchewan are both beginning to exploit their shale gas and oil deposits on a massive scale, while the territories, Ontario and Quebec have increased activities in their natural mineral and metal mining sector.
The program, titled the Federal Skilled Trades Program, gives preference to applicants with Canadian job offers and have a basic knowledge of English or French. At least two years of work experience in their trade is a bonus.
"Canadian employers have long been asking for ways to get the skilled tradespeople they need to meet demands in many industries across the country," said Immigration Minister Jason Kenney on Wednesday. "We've listened to their concerns and created this program in response."
In July, the Alberta Federation of Labour told Today they were skeptical of the program and were worried that it would allow fewer safeguards for foreign workers.
Nancy Furlong, secretary-treasurer of the AFL, pointed to a 2010 provincial report that found 74% of employers who used the Temporary Foreign Worker program had violated the Employment Standards Act regarding pay rates and record keeping.
"Canadians should get first crack at these jobs. But the Harper government is more interested in the bottom line of their friends in the non-union construction sector," she said. "The result is employers can use these workers in ways that Canadians might not tolerate,"
To meet the labour demands in northeastern Alberta, Chapman says more needs to be done to make the region more accommodating to the needs of foreign workers.
"The last census saw about 15% of the population here came from outside of Canada. That should be sufficient to have, at least on a visiting basis, immigration counselings so workers can deal with immigration issues here, not in Vancouver, Edmonton or Calgary," he said. "We need to give them more flexibility, make it easier to become citizens, easier for their families to come over if they're here long-term."
Chapman would also like to see language classes for promising skilled workers, rather than see them turned away due to a language barrier.
"If they're qualified and good on the tools but have problems in language, let's help them and not reject them," he said.
Fort McMurray Today, Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2013
Byline: Vincent McDermott
Swiss Chalet case shows how employers can use weak laws to rip-off workers
EDMONTON – Alberta's poorly written minimum wage laws are subject to abuse, says Nancy Furlong, Secretary Treasurer of the Alberta Federation of Labour, and Doug O'Halloran, President of the United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 401 (UFCW 401).
"Employers are taking advantage of weak two-tiered minimum wage laws to rip off the lowest-paid workers in Alberta," says Furlong. "A case before the Alberta Labour Relations Board (ALRB) shows how unscrupulous employers can classify minimum-wage earners as 'liquor servers,' even though they rarely if ever serve booze, in order to pay them the lower of the two minimum wages."
The case, brought to the ALRB by UFCW 401 on behalf of workers at the West End Swiss Chalet in Edmonton, centres around the employer's attempt to pay workers the liquor servers' minimum wage of $9.05 an hour, rather than the general minimum wage of $9.40 an hour (will increase to $9.75 on September 1), though they rarely, if ever, serve alcohol. The $9.75 minimum wage allows for the 'occasional' service of liquor, which is precisely the situation of the workers at Swiss Chalet.
"Servers at Swiss Chalet serve chicken and ribs, not martinis and scotch," says Doug O'Halloran, President of UFCW 401. "But the employer is demanding that they accept the lower wage, the one for workers who frequently serve booze. The employer is prepared to lockout these workers in order to get his way and pay them a lower minimum wage than they're entitled."
"There are nearly 26,000 Alberta workers earning minimum wage and only a small minority – like the workers at this Swiss Chalet - have the protection of a union," says O'Halloran. "If one dodgy employer has figured out a way to screw these workers out of $0.35 an hour, you can bet that there are dozens, maybe even hundreds, of other employers doing the same thing."
"There should be one wage for all minimum wage earners in Alberta, one that allows them to earn enough to stay out of poverty," says Furlong. "An all-party committee of the Legislature in 2010 also recommended that there be one wage for all minimum-wage earners, but the government caved to the restaurant lobby and ignored that advice."
"Now the chickens have come home to roost. Employers in the restaurant industry are using the government's shoddy laws and lax enforcement to swindle the lowest-paid workers in the province."
Douglas O'Halloran, President, UFCW 401, 403-861-2000
Nancy Furlong, AFL Secretary Treasurer, 780-720-8945
Minister must do more to protect Alberta workers; Waiting for complaints to be filed won’t prevent abuse in the workplace, says AFL
EDMONTON – Moves to improve the enforcement of Alberta’s Employment Standards code are welcome, but the government approach is wrong and doesn’t go far enough in protecting workers, says the province’s largest labour group, the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL).
“Once again, Minister of Employment and Immigration Thomas Lukaszuk has chosen to focus on responding to complaints, instead of being proactive in preventing unfair and abusive workplace practices,” says Nancy Furlong, Secretary Treasurer of the AFL, which represents 145,000 workers. “Waiting for complaints to come in is an abdication of the responsibility the province has to enforce Employment Standards. Many employees, particularly vulnerable Temporary Foreign Workers, young workers, or people newly hired may be unaware of their rights or afraid to complain,” she says.
“The government’s hiring of six new officers is too little to have any serious effect on ensuring Employment Standards are enforced at the thousands worksites all over the province. The AFL is also concerned at the increased use of third-party auditors. Enforcing standards is a provincial responsibility and can only be done effectively by provincial inspectors. Third-party auditors will simply not have the same authority or impact as government officers when dealing with problem employers. We are not sure why it is appropriate to go to third parties. Enforcement is an obligation of the province and as such audit should be an integral part of the operation,” she says.
“At the root of the problem is that the minister is focused on the needs of employers over the needs of Albertans. For example, he has chosen to produce a toolkit for employers to remind them of their responsibilities, but not one for workers to remind them of their rights.”
“What Albertans really need and deserve are stronger Employment Standards, more proactive investigations to ensure standards are being maintained, real enforcement of those standards and more prosecutions of violators. Alberta must also act to end the unfair discrimination against farm workers and domestic workers, who are excluded from the Employment Standards that protect other workers and from Occupational Health and Safety laws and Workers Compensation,” says Furlong.
MEDIA CONTACT: Nancy Furlong, AFL Secretary Treasurer @ 780 720-8945