The case of Chinese temporary foreign workers having their paycheques siphoned is a perfect example of how the TFW program is out of control, says the Alberta Federation of Labour. The AFL is responding to a news story in the Edmonton Journal today accounting how 120 workers brought from China were paid a fraction of what they should be paid.
"Murky Chinese contractors, vulnerable workers, a passive union, an indifferent employer and an absent provincial government," says AFL President Gil McGowan. "That adds up to exploitation. This situation could and should have been avoided."
McGowan points out that Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. (CNRL) and the Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC), a union that preaches collaboration and cooperation with employers, made huge mistakes in their rush to bring the Chinese TFWs into Alberta. CNRL should have insisted that it hire the workers directly, not through Sinopec, owned by the Chinese government, says McGowan.
"The first mistake was allowing the Chinese government to have direct access to these workers. CNRL had a responsibility to make sure they weren't exploited."
"And CLAC failed in its responsibility to these workers. No mainstream union would have permitted an arrangement like allowing an employer to have signing authority on worker bank accounts," says McGowan. "The AFL has affiliates that deal with TFWs, and they place stringent requirements on what the employer does with them, and they make every possible effort to build a relationship with the temporary workers - up to and including running English classes. CLAC made very little effort, it appears."
"The problem is that CLAC trusts employers too much, and it results in situations like this."
McGowan also points blame on the provincial government. "The government is asleep at the switch. They are doing nothing to monitor the working conditions of TFWs or to ensure that their rights are not being violated."
"The result is that the Conservatives are allowing the importation of third-world working conditions into Alberta."
"The problems that led to the Chinese workers being ripped off are the same conditions that led to the two Chinese workers being killed on the same worksite. Lax government oversight, a company in a rush to make billions in profits, and a union that doesn't ask enough questions are all to blame," McGowan concludes.
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For more information contact:
Gil McGowan, AFL President @ 780.483-3021 (office) or 780.218-9888 (cell)
In the wake of a forklift accident on the weekend that killed a St. Albert teenager, the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) is calling for better safety standards.
Mitchell Tanner, a Grade 10 student at Paul Kane High School, died Saturday at the Rona store on Inglewood Drive, when the forklift he was riding on flipped and crushed him.
Occupational Health and Safety officers are investigating the accident. However, AFL director of policy analysis Jason Foster said that simply isn't enough.
"Forklifts are notoriously dangerous machines in Alberta workplaces and we have no requirements for training or certification of operators," he said.
Foster said the Alberta government should adopt similar standards as Manitoba, requiring licensing of operators.
He said that approach drastically cuts down on the number of accidents.
"That's the model. That is the way to make sure that the people using those machines are doing it safely and they are not creating undue risk."
Barrie Harrison with Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) said the province has regulations requiring employers to provide proper training.
"Any employer out there who has forklifts and has employees who are operating them is well aware of the requirement of health and safety," he said.
Foster said employers have their own motivations and proper training isn't necessarily one of them.
"The employer is in a bit of a conflict of interest because their interest is in making sure the employee is being productive as quickly as possible," he said.
Harrison said the government conducts thousands of investigations per year.
"OHS conducts upwards of 13,000 inspections annually in workplaces and our officers will go onto worksites without warning."
Foster argues that isn't enough.
"We have the lowest per capita funding of health and safety enforcement of anywhere in the country. We have 85 inspectors to cover the entire province."
He argues the inspectors focus on high-risk industries and don't have the time to visit other job sites.
"A place like Rona is never going to have an inspector there to see what they are doing."
Harrison said there are actually only 83 inspectors, but the government doesn't believe an inspector on every corner will do the job.
He admits they have targeted industries, but all workplaces are subject to investigation and education and working with employers to address problems is the solution.
"We need to work with labour groups, with employers and with safety associations to make workplaces safer.
St. Albert Gazette, Page 3, Wed Jun 11 2008
Byline: Ryan Tumilty
Students at Paul Kane High School in St. Albert have created a memorial at the school for Mitchell Tanner, 16, killed on the job in a lumberyard at the local Rona.
Alberta's workplace safety codes are under a microscope after a teen was crushed to death by a forklift this weekend at a St. Albert Rona Building Centre.
Alberta Federation of Labour President Gil McGowan says Mitchell Tanner's Saturday death could have been prevented if the province had tougher legislation when it comes to operating forklifts.
"Accidents on forklifts are very common here in Alberta and part of the problem is that the (provincial) government, nor many employers, recognize how dangerous these pieces of equipment really are," said McGowan.
"If we had more appropriate safety codes around the use of forklifts, this could have been avoided."
Employment Minister Hector Goudreau told Metro current safety codes in Alberta are some of the toughest in Canada and already do the job in preventing deaths and injuries of workers operating forklifts.
"We're not at the stage to comment on whether or not all the rules were followed (in this incident) and it's going to take a while to get a full report," said Goudreau.
"We know young Albertans are very capable of learning and capable of handling some equipment ... but we need to find out what happened here and to see if this is something consistent with forklifts."
Students at Paul Kane High School where Tanner attended Grade 10 also made a makeshift memorial for the teen along with creating a tribute page on Facebook.
Tanner is described by students as an amazing guy who was always a good friend, say students on the social networking website.
"You're the nicest kid I ever met and the world could use more guys like you," said Alex Kane in a Facebook wall posting about Tanner.
Metro Edmonton, Tues Jun 10 2008
Forklift wasn't part of job description: Teen was trained to be 'foot soldier,' not work with heavy machinery, Rona store manager says
Sixteen-year-old Mitchell Tanner worked only two shifts at his new job before he was killed.
"He told his friends it was his dream to work (at Rona)," said friend Hailey Hume, 15, standing at a memorial site erected in Tanner's memory. "He thought it would be so much fun."
The Grade 10 student was working his second shift at the Rona Building Centre in St. Albert on Saturday when the accident occurred.
Tanner was hanging off the side of the forklift as it was being driven by one of his friends, a 17-year-old student at St. Albert High School. The forklift tipped over and crushed him.
Tanner had previously worked at McDonald's and Panago Pizza, and friends and classmates from Paul Kane High School recalled his excitement over his new job. He was making dinner for his family when Rona called him with the job offer. Tanner immediately shared the good news with one of his best friends.
"He was just so happy about it," said Nick MacDonald, who has known Tanner for two years.
"He said he'd be working in the lumber yard and using forklifts."
A school memorial for Tanner was erected in the student lounge Monday, but his closest friends preferred to remember him in their own way. Several students at school on Monday were wearing purple ribbons, Tanner's favourite colour.
Lilacs were taped to the side of a nearby overpass where Tanner used to hang out and ride his longboard. Messages were written on the overpass in marker and pen, addressed to "Big Mitch" or the "gentle giant." Tanner was more than six feet tall, his friends said.
"He just liked to have fun," said friend Niki Jaenen, 17, who fondly recalled the Halloween when Tanner painted himself entirely green. "Knowing Mitch, if he stepped on the side of that forklift it wasn't to go fast or anything. It was to have fun."
Tanner was hired at Rona as a "foot soldier" in the lumber yard, cleaning and helping customers retrieve orders. Store manager Barry Campbell said there are two or three other teenaged foot soldiers at Rona, and none of them are supposed to operate forklifts.
He said Tanner had already completed his job training when he died, including workplace safety training, but hadn't received forklift training because he was never expected to use one.
"What was going on was outside the parameters and guidelines of the company for (his) position," said Campbell. "He was trained for the foot-soldier job, but usually for the first few weeks they're with someone else."
Two years ago, the Alberta Federation of Labour tried to introduce changes to Alberta's Occupational Health and Safety Code, which it says is "virtually silent on the issue of forklift safety."
"Frankly, I'm heartsick," said federation president Gil McGowan. "I can't help but think that if recommendations for change had been embraced and acted upon two years ago, we might have avoided this tragedy."
There are no rules in Alberta about who can operate a forklift, said McGowan, unlike in Manitoba where forklift operators have to be certified.
The weekend's accident is being investigated by Workplace Health and Safety. Spokesman Barrie Harrison said Tanner is the second death in the 15-19 age group this year; last year there were none.
Friends and classmates said Tanner was a model student who aspired to be a teacher and volunteered every Friday at Sir Alexander Mackenzie Elementary School.
"He was amazing, there are no words to describe him," said friend Katie Hagan, who was supposed to meet Tanner after work the day he died. "Everybody just loved him."
Edmonton Journal, Tues Jun 10 2008
Byline: Jennifer Yang
The AFL noted today the death of a 16-year old Rona hardware worker and suggests it could have been avoided with tougher legislation.
"Workplace fatalities are always a horrible tragedy, especially when the worker is so young," says AFL President Gil McGowan. "Our immediate thoughts go out to the family of this young man."
"But I also cannot help thinking that if we had more appropriate safety laws around forklifts, this might have been avoided."
Forklifts are a regular and particularly problematic safety problem in workplaces, McGowan points out. "Accidents are frequent with forklifts. Most are caused by a lack of training on safe use, or inappropriate uses of the lift, such as working from the forks."
McGowan highlights that Alberta's Occupational Health and Safety Code is virtually silent on the issue of forklifts. The only two provisions require a legible load rating chart and that if the lift has seat belts, the belts be used and be maintained in good condition.
"Because our Code says nothing about forklifts, employers do very little to ensure they are used safely," says McGowan. "There is inadequate training on what should and should not be done - and the result, unfortunately, are accidents like yesterday's."
McGowan also highlights that in the revamping of the Safety Code a few years ago, worker and some employer representatives pushed for tougher forklift rules, including certification of operators. Those amendments were rejected by other employer groups and the government, and the status quo remained.
"There is so much more that can be done," says McGowan. "Look at Manitoba. They have a comprehensive Code of Practice for forklifts. Operators must be certified by an independent trainer, and the employer has a series of responsibilities for keeping the forklifts safe."
The Manitoba approach ensures more substantial training, safe operation, and ongoing monitoring of credentials, says McGowan. "The government needs to move immediately to implement the Manitoba model for safety protection on forklifts."
"Workers want to work safely. But to achieve that, they need proper training and education on the hazards of their job and the machinery they work with," says McGowan. "And it is the government's responsibility to make sure rules are in place to make it happen."
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For more information contact:
Gil McGowan, AFL President @ 780.483-3021 (office) or 780.218-9888 (cell)
When it comes to how electricians trade certificates are actually being earned, the practice is for some Chinese immigrants to write the exams in Ontario then return to Alberta, pay a registration fee to obtain the equivalency trade ticket then travel to the oilsands for work.
The electrician who called Phd Training, along with two colleagues, recently met with Today to discuss their concerns about what they've been witnessing on site.
Norm Chan said because it's legitimately qualified Chinese electricians raising the alarm that validates the complaint, removing any prejudice. Chan was one of the colleagues who accompanied the caller.
"We're here as concerned citizens," said Chan. Of Chinese descent, the first-generation Canadian holds a legitimate trade ticket after four years on the job following successful completion of Alberta's four-year apprenticeship program. He added that eight years ago, it used to be one in 1,000 electricians were Chinese. Now, there's 20 or 30 on a job. "We're not trying to be discriminatory. They have to go through the (same training) we all did, doing the apprenticeship and being properly taught." After talking to some colleagues of the Ontario tested electricians, he maintained "They shortcutted to get paid the top wages ... which is not right."
More important, they're afraid someone will be hurt, or worse -- killed on the job -- because unqualified people are working as electricians.
Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, agreed, saying operations that generate unqualified workers make a mockery of the rules and standards for training and certification.
"They're an insult to all those tradespeople who play by the rules and have spent years developing their skills," he said. McGowan added this practice also raises concerns about construction quality and workplace safety.
In recalling reasons for their concerns, a second worker referred to simply as Wong, remembered watching two Chinese men trained Ontario working from a blueprint to connect a series of wires in the junction box.
"They pick up the phone, they're asking their friend outside," said Wong. "They ask their buddy ... how to do this and this ...
"It make me very mad because I'm Chinese. The next job I go, I'm embarrassed. There are some good Chinese."
He also recalled these workers will also ask where they can buy tickets if they see fellow Chinese workers doing something they don't realize is part of an electrician's job.
Chan and his colleagues noted these workers are not restricted to one oilsands construction site.
"I've had my own experience where I was ... put on a crew with a bunch of these other Chinese people, and then we had to go tie-wrap. I asked them to go to their tool boxes ... to get their pair of klines and pair of sidecutters."
As they would pull different tools out, they would gesture with their head, and Chan found himself shaking his head no until the right tool appeared.
What compounds the issue of improperly earned tickets is "nobody's policing it, and more and more are coming along," said Chan.
When the confidential source contacted Phd Training's Edmonton office for information, his call was routed to the Toronto branch. Phd training is based in Toronto, according to its website, though it claims to have schools in major centres across Canada.
In the recent conversation, which lasted about 20 minutes with a man who identified himself as Yuan, he was told people outside Toronto take classes on the Internet. They can reach the teacher through mail or on the telephone. Students could be ready to write an exam for the industrial or electricians trade certificates in as a little as a few months. The cost is $1,100 for the industrial election course, and $1,200 for the construction electrician course. Tax receipts are issued. A workshop is also made available for students to acquaint themselves with the tools of the trade: $450 for construction electrician and $550 for industrial electricians courses.
The workshops, said Yuan, take about one and a half months with two classes a week.
In Ontario, it takes five years to become a properly qualified electrician through the apprenticeship program. In Alberta, it's four years with 5,850 hours of hands-on work.
Yuan explained that the test can be taken in Alberta but it takes longer, about four months, from the time of evaluation to the exam, whereas it only takes about a week in Ontario. Also, he said the school encourages students to write the exams in Ontario rather than Alberta because its easier. Yuan added the school can even help with accommodation at $20 a night for those in Toronto to write the exams.
Yuan said the school encourages people, even if they prepped in Alberta, to write the exam in Ontario because it's less trouble.
And English? No worries. According to Yuan, it's easy for Chinese people to get into this industry where "you don't need a lot of specific technical skills, like a language ... I think the language problems aren't an issue." He added students can bring a translator who can even be their child.
"I think the English requirement isn't high as long as you have the technical terms down," Yuan added later.
Anyone writing an exam is allowed to supply their own translator.
Dove noted that in Ontario, a client writing the trade certification examination arranges for their own translator who can be a family member or person the client feels most comfortable with. However, guidelines and procedures are in place to ensure that a translator is not associated with the trade or a related trade.
As for the reference letter supposed to be written by a former employer in China confirming the required five years experience, Yuan said "if you write it well, it's OK."
"So I can write it myself?" asked the source
"Yes," replied Yuan.
If the letter verifying the experience is accepted, the applicant is not subject to an evaluation to put their skills to the test. However, Yuan cautions that "if you have bad luck," the evaluation will still be conducted and the student can be found out.
"In Canada, they're very trusting of the official certificate," said Yuan.
If students fail, the school will help students write the tests as many times as needed before they pass even though the government states the test can only be written three times in one year. Yuan said if students get a letter from where they're training, they can test again.
McGowan, who had been hearing rumours of this practice for months, said "If decisive action isn't taken ... it will weaken the very foundation of our system for trades training.
"If governments don't act quickly shutting these operations down, "they'll be putting lives at risk. They'll also be jeopardizing the Canadian construction industry's ... well deserved reputation for quality workmanship."
Fort McMurray Today, Page A8, Fri Jun 6 2008
Byline: Carol Christian
Labour unions in B.C. and Alberta commemorated the 13th International Day of Mourning amid claims that provincial government statistics underestimate the numbers of employees killed.
The Alberta Ministry of Employment and Immigration reported on April 17 that there were 154 occupational fatalities in 2007.
These fatalities are broken down into three categories; 44 were motor vehicle incidents, 47 were workplace incidents, and 63 were occupational disease deaths. However, the Alberta Federation of Labour estimates the real figure to be 166.
Barrie Harrison, a communications officer with the Alberta Ministry of Employment, said that the construction sector accounted for six deaths from motor vehicle accidents, 20 deaths from workplace incidents and 24 deaths from occupational disease.
"2007 had the most work-related fatalities since 1982 and was the sixth highest in the province's history and the first two months of 2008 were even worse," said Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan.
He pointed out 28 workers were killed in the first two months of 2008, up from a year earlier.
While McGowan acknowledged it is early in the year, he expressed some concerns.
"If we continue to lose workers at this rate, we will kill 170 workers in 2008, which will be the highest number since the Hillcrest Mine disaster in 1914," he said.
A similar picture emerges in B.C.
According to WorkSafe BC fatality statistics, 228 workers died as a result of workplace incidents in 2007.
These fatalities are broken down into four categories; 37 were motor vehicle incidents, 57 were other injuries, 69 were asbestos exposure and 65 were other diseases.
WorkSafe BC also reported that first payment was made for 139 occupational deaths in 2007.
The 139 fatal injury claims first paid in 2007 is a different measure of fatalities for two reasons.
First, some of the fatalities first paid in 2007 occurred in a prior year. Second, some of the reported fatalities were not compensable.
Out of the 139 fatal injuries, construction had more workers killed in the workplace than any other industry with 30 deaths.
The B.C. Federation of Labour estimated that the true death toll in B.C. for 2007 was about 380.
"This is an epidemic, but we know these numbers fail to reflect the true number of workers and families profoundly affected by these diseases," said Jim Sinclair, president of the B.C. Federation of Labour.
"Too often these diseases go undiagnosed and unreported. As a result, injured workers aren't compensated and employers are not held responsible."
The British Columbia and Yukon Building and Construction Trades Council (BCYBCTC) made a prediction earlier this year that about 300 construction workers will die each year for the next five years of mesothelioma and other asbestos exposure illnesses.
The prediction is based on research by Professor Paul Demers at the University of British Columbia's school of environmental health as well as statistics from WorkSafe BC.
McGowan argued that fatality rates in Alberta tend to follow the cycles of economic growth and decline.
"Employers are cutting corners on training and safety procedures to meet the huge demand. The result is more accidents," he said.
"Many workers choose to walk away from unsafe jobs rather than pressure for more safety, meaning bad employers don't improve. And, the government is not doing enough inspections and enforcement."
More than 175,000 accidents were reported to the Alberta Workers Compensation Board in 2007. This works out to 20 accidents every hour - 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Both the AFL and the federation of labour are calling on employers, government and workers to do more to make workplaces safer.
Journal of Commerce, Mon May 5 2008
Byline: Richard Gilbert
Recent deaths raise question of workplace safety: Complaints to province have 'fallen upon deaf ears,' victim's wife says
EDMONTON - Not even two years after Lorna Chandler's husband was crushed in a grain silo at a feedlot near High River, one of his employers also died in a silo-related workplace accident.
Chandler feels sure her 35-year-old husband, Kevan, would have survived if there had been a rope and a way to secure the harness that was on site. Her husband's boss was also unsecured when he fell to his death from the top of a silo last Tuesday, she said.
"If he had a rope and harness, too, I'm quite sure he'd be alive," Chandler said Monday, following an annual ceremony at City Hall honouring lost and injured workers.
Chandler is frustrated because no one in the provincial government seems to be doing anything to stop these easily preventable deaths.
"What I'm trying to say has fallen upon deaf ears."
Last year, 154 Albertans died in workplace accidents, making it the worst year for fatalities since 1982. In addition, more than 175,000 people were injured while working.
It's time to connect the tragedy of workplace deaths with the causes, Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, said at the ceremony. Weak safety laws and lax enforcement send a message that the government doesn't take worker safety seriously, he said. "A worker is injured every three minutes every day in Alberta. We all know Albertans like to be number one. We're number one in investment. We're number one in growth. We're also number one in workplace deaths."
Simple guardrails costing as little as $30 could have saved the life of his grandson, said Leonard Brennan. But no one was doing the inspections required to find the "ongoing death trap" at his grandson's worksite.
Jahryn Kozak, 20, was killed Dec. 13, 2004, while working for Fitzgerald Construction. He became entangled in an unguarded tail pulley while cleaning excess gravel from the ground under a rock crusher. He was pronounced dead at the worksite.
Brennan noted that the company got a charitable donation receipt for almost all of the $300,000 it was ordered to pay as punishment because it went towards the Alberta Workers' Health Centre, a non-profit society which assists workers to improve workplace health and safety. Though he praised the work done by the centre, Brennan found it disturbing that the company would benefit in any fashion from what was supposed to be punishment. "I felt like throwing up when I heard that," he said.
Meanwhile, the Alberta NDP slammed the government for refusing to place limits on working alone in a worksite.
Employment critic Rachel Notley released a government official's e-mail from last week that nixed a proposal to let the employment minister ban working alone on certain unsafe sites.
A working group of industry, government and labour officials asked for the move.
Kenn Hample, provincial safety specialist co-ordinator, rejected that idea outright, saying in the e-mail that the province doesn't want to be "interjecting a government decision into the operation of a worksite," when the government prefers companies practice "internal responsibility" for their actions.
Notley called the proposal "hesitant first steps" that would have modestly improved worker safety in Alberta.
Edmonton Journal, Tues Apr 29 2008
Byline: Hanneke Brooymans and Jason Markusoff
The provincial government says in 2007, workplace related deaths rose 24 per cent in Alberta to 154 - the highest number in the last decade.
On Monday, labour groups are gathering to honour those who died in International Day of Mourning ceremonies.
The main one in Calgary is at City Hall at noon. A "death march" begins at 3rd Street and 6th Avenue southeast at 11:45 a.m. - followed by a memorial wreath laying service at noon at city hall.
Alberta Federation of Labour's Gil McGowan says it's a very somber day for workers all over the world.
McGowan says last week alone five people died in work-related fatalities in Alberta - one of those in Calgary.
A father of six was killed at a southeast warehouse when a bunch of pallets toppled onto him.
CHQR Newsroom, Mon Apr 28 2008
The AFL is commemorating the 13th International Day of Mourning today by remembering the 166 Albertans (154 officially "recognized" workers and 12 farm workers) who lost their lives in 2007 because of work. Day of Mourning is recognized internationally to commemorate workers who are injured or killed because of work (see Backgrounder).
"2007 had the most work-related fatalities since 1982, and was the sixth highest in the province's history," says AFL President Gil McGowan. "And the first two months of 2008 were even worse."
McGowan points out 28 workers were killed in the first two months of 2008, up from a year earlier. While he acknowledges it is still very early in the year, he observes that "if we continue to lose workers at this rate, we will kill 170 workers in 2008, which will be the highest number since the Hillcrest Mine disaster in 1914."
The problem, McGowan notes, is the boom. "Employers are cutting corners on training and safety procedures to meet the huge demand. The result is more accidents. Many workers choose to walk away from unsafe jobs rather than pressure for more safety, meaning bad employers don't improve. And the government is not doing enough inspections and enforcement."
In 2007, over 175,000 accidents were reported to the WCB. This works out to 20 accidents every hour - 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. "It can be hard to put our heads around numbers as big as 175,000, but we need to find a way to recognize the magnitude of what is going wrong at workplaces. Work in Alberta is simply not safe enough," says McGowan.
The AFL is calling on employers, government and workers to do more to make our workplaces safer. "Government needs to toughen safety legislation and do a better job enforcing it. Employers need to stop cutting corners on safety in the interests of profit, and workers need to be more vocal in defending our rights to safe work."
Alberta communities and workplaces around the province will be taking time today to remember workers killed and injured due to work, through minutes of silence, ceremonies and other gatherings. The official Edmonton ceremony will be at City Hall at 7 p.m. Calgary's event will be at noon at Edward's Place Park.
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For more information contact:
Gil McGowan, AFL President @ 780.483-3021 (office) or 780.218-9888 (cell)