The first 100 years
The Alberta Federation of Labour is dedicated to improving the lives of Alberta's working people, union members and non-members alike. We seek to represent all those who must work to earn a livelihood. Together workers share a need for security, safety, a living wage, a life beyond work, and a society that puts the needs of the many ahead of the needs of a few. Only by banding together into unions and organizations such as the AFL can they hope to keep the rights and protections they require and to win new ones.
The next 100 years
Those who came before left a tremendous legacy: laws that provide for a minimum wage and maximum hours of work, weekends and statutory holidays, Worker's Compensation, health and safety, pensions and health care, and so much more. The challenge facing the AFL and the entire labour movement during the next 100 years is to protect and build on this inheritance and to meet new challenges - unprotected farm workers, temporary foreign workers, invasion of privacy, new workplace hazards and occupational disease, to name a few.
If we approach our task with energy and commitment, we will succeed!
The Edmonton Journal, Friday August 31 2012
Lack of protection for Alberta farm workers was highlighted Aug. 20 by Alberta's New Democrats and the Alberta Federation of Labour.
The two groups used the occasion of the AFL-designated Alberta farm workers day to urge the provincial government to extend occupational health and safety laws and workers compensation benefits to farm employees.
NDP agriculture critic David Eggen said his party issues the call every year to increase standards under which farm workers can be protected.
"It's very dangerous work and farm workers are not being protected with the basic rights that other workers have here in the province of Alberta," Eggen said at a Lethbridge news conference.
"They're far behind the rest of Canadian farm workers. It shows callous disregard to an important sector of our population."
Shannon Phillips, AFL director of policy analysis, said previous Progressive Conservative governments have explained lack of farm worker protections as a way to avoid intrusion on family farm operations.
"We find that excuse to be just that," said Phillips, adding the explanation is a red herring for government failure to provide adequate worker protection.
"There is no excuse any more. And we also have a premier on the record saying that she is going to do this."
In her leadership campaign, Alberta premier Alison Redford said farm laborers should have protection.
However, no changes have been made to legislation since Redford's election earlier this year that would affect farm worker status.
Phillips said many farms are large commercial operations with workplaces like any other, so workers deserve the same protections offered in other sectors.
In a later interview, Eggen echoed those opinions.
"The large farms that have been amalgamated into companies and corporations now need to be the very first up to give full rights to their workers," he said. "In regards to smaller operations, we can have a differentiated approach, with the provincial government providing some of those premiums to the smaller operators. Large corporate farms need to pay full freight on their workers' rights and compensation immediately."
Eggen and Phillips noted recent evidence that the province no longer tracks and reports farm worker fatalities. Queries were instead directed to dated data on the Canadian Farm Injury Reporting website.
However, agriculture ministry spokesperson Stuart Elson said Aug. 23 that 2011 farm injury and fatality statistics would be posted within a few days.
"We just want to make sure we are respecting the privacy of the families, but we're actually going to be putting up some updated stats."
He said concerns were raised about the level of detail in Alberta farm fatality reporting, so the process was reviewed.
"We will be posting it pretty quickly.
At the news conference earlier in the week, Eggen expressed concern about lack of available 2011 data.
"I think the statistics have been embarrassing, quite frankly. We have seen historically 160 deaths here in the province of Alberta around farm workers since Alberta started to keep the statistics."
Alberta is the only province that excludes farm workers from occupational health and safety laws and from regulations governing hours of work, overtime and vacation pay.
Phillips said the matter has been studied for years by successive PC governments but with no action taken.
"This thing has been studied and studied and studied to death. Over the nine years that the provincial government said they were consulting on this topic, 160 people died."
The Western Producer, Friday August 31 2012
Merit Contractors Association, which represents more than 1,300 "open shop" or non-unionized construction industry employers prov-incewide, wants the Redford government to make good on one of the promises it made during the election campaign. As part of their 2012 election platform, the PCs proposed introducing legislation making it mandatory for trade unions to disclose their annual financial statements to their members. They also proposed to give union members the right to opt out of any portion of union dues that fund activities unrelated to collective bargaining.
Peter Pilarski, Merit Con-tractors Association's vice-president for southern Alberta, said he believes changes to legislation are important because employees are fed up with having their union dues used to make political contributions or support certain social causes. During the 2008 provincial election campaign, for example, a series of anti-Conservative attack ads were paid for by "Albertans for Change," a coalition of the Alberta Building and Trades Council of Unions, the Alberta Federation of Labour and the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees. In Ontario's 2011 election campaign, a coalition of unions dubbed "Working Families" spent $2.1 million on ads attacking PC leader Tim Hudak.
"If belonging to a union and paying union dues are a condition of employment for me, I should have some rights as to where that money's going. The feeling I think Canadians have is they don't have those rights right now," Pilarski said.
A survey commissioned by Merit Contractors and released by the organization today seems to indicate support for Pilarski's premise. According to the survey, conducted by Leger Marketing, only 35 per cent of the 501 employed Albertans interviewed believe union dues are well-spent, while 41 per cent do not. Seventy-two per cent of respondents believe union members should have the right to opt out of certain union activities, while 63 per cent think unionization itself shouldn't be mandatory in any workplace and employees should have the option of opting out entirely.
The survey results are based on 501 online interviews with employed Albertans.
Martyn Piper, executive secretary treasurer of the Alberta Regional Council of Carpenters and Allied Workers, said his union already makes its financial information fully available to its members and he has no problem with the idea of a provincial law requiring that type of disclosure from all unions.
What he is opposed to, however, is the premise of Bill C-377, a private member's bill currently before the federal House of Commons which would require unions to make all of their financial information publicly available online. He said that level of disclosure would jeopardize the privacy of everyone from pension fund recipients to vendors and contractors.
"It's our members who should know how the finances are spent," Piper said. "Do we want the rest of the world to know what we do with our finances? I don't think any organization wants that, either personally or professionally."
Piper disagreed with the idea that people should be able to opt out of certain portions of their union dues, arguing unions make their decisions democratically and members - just like in any other organization - must abide by the will of the majority. He said those who don't want to be unionized at all are free to choose an alternative workplace.
Piper added he believes advocates of such legislation are unfairly putting unions in a bad light.
"The problem is people don't understand us and they don't make any attempt to understand us," he said. "There are always people who want to attack unions, but at the end of the day, to what end?"
In spite of what was proposed in his party's campaign platform, deputy premier Thomas Lukaszuk said the government has not yet made a decision on whether or not to amend Alberta's labour laws. He said he will soon be inviting both sides - employers' groups and union officials - to sit down and discuss how to keep Alberta competitive while growing the labour force at the same time.
'Both sides have ideas on how to accomplish that, but those ideas are not always parallel," Lukaszuk said. "There is a balance there, and that means that either one of those two visions cannot be adopted holus-bolus."
Conducted by Leger Marketing, based on 501 online interviews with employed Albertans
- (results weighted by age and gender to ensure demographic representation)
- Percentage of respondents who agreed with the following statements:
- Union dues are well-spent - 35%
- Union dues are not well-spent - 41%
- Employees should have the ability to opt out of non-core union activities - 72%
- Unionization should not be a mandatory condition for employment and that employees should be able to opt out of all union dues - 63%
- Workers should be able to obtain financial information about their union - 94%
- It should be mandatory for all unions to publicly disclose their finances - 86%
- Unions have a positive role in ensuring job security - 81%
- Unions are relevant today - 40%
- Unions were once relevant, but aren't anymore - 45%
The Calgary Herald, August 31, 2012
Byline: Amanda Stephenson
Issue: UFCW 1118 on strike/lockout for fair wages and working hours since Saturday, August 25, 2012.
Actions Requested: Support your sisters and brothers on the picket line at 127 Avenue and 76 Street in Edmonton.
When: Pickets will be going in shifts between Monday and Friday, 6 a.m. and 6:30 p.m.
Backgrounder: UFCW 1118 workers at Lilydale Foods’ North Edmonton shop are on strike for wages comparable to those in other Lilydale plants. The employer refuses to pay wages on par with other Lilydale plants despite the fact that these workers work harder by handling larger and heavier poultry. The employer has cut the number of workers on the floor, meaning those left on the floor have to work harder while their wages have remained the same. Workers are also asking for a guaranteed minimum number of hours per week. There are about 200 workers on strike in shifts of about 75.
AFL’s Position: The AFL is asking union members to support the striking workers by joining them on the picket line whenever possible - the picket line runs every day from 6 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
Action: Support your sisters and brothers on the picket line at 127 Avenue and 76 Street in Edmonton.
Key contact at the AFL: Tony Clark, 780-218-5281 (cell)
Liberal MLA David Swann has called on one snack food company to stop using Alberta-produced potatoes, as child labour in the province's industry remains unregulated.
In Alberta, one member of the legislative assembly is calling for a boycott of potato farms in the Canadian province, stating that child labour continues to be employed on the farms. The company he targeted in particular was snack foods manufacturer and potato-chip giant, Frito Lay.
Human Services Minister Dave Hancock defended the family farm in the Edmonton Journal. "I think it's unfair to Alberta producers, and Albertans, to write a letter to one of the chief buyers saying, 'Don't buy anything from Alberta in this area because someone might be using child labour,'" he said.
Some companies attempt to refrain from using child or forced labour as part of their ethical sourcing requirements or corporate social responsibility endeavours. David Swann would like to see the company refrain from buying Alberta potatoes under similar provisions.
On the other hand, Rob Van Roessel of the Potato Growers of Alberta is proud of the safety protocols it has pioneered in the industry. Work for children is safe so long as supervision and training is adequate he is reported saying in the Edmonton Journal.
Citing the Alberta Federation of Labour, the Edmonton Journal reports that agriculture-related fatalities are no longer government-reported. Mr. Swann, however, estimated the number to be 30 over the span of two decades. Eric Muse amp, president of the Farm Workers Union of Alberta, says that a third of agriculture fatalities are among children.
In 2008 alone, reports the Calgary Herald, six of the 23 agriculture-related deaths were among children. Many of the fatalities among children in recent years involved machinery and infrastructure—a 12-year-old pinned under a shop door; a five-year old falling off a wagon in tow of a tractor; a seven-year-old crushed at an industrial feedlot; two young children buried in grain off-loaded by a truck; a four-year-old run over; a nine-year old killed by a rolling tractor while another was asphyxiated after falling into a grain hopper; and two other youth under twelve were thrown from a truck to their deaths.
Divisions between child labour a child work can be a contentious issue. Countries around the world have different minimum ages of employment. Different rules may apply to children working on farms as compared to other industries.
According to the Canadian Labour Congress, "Alberta Employment Standards Code permits the employment of 12 to 14 year olds with the written consent of one parent or guardian. The employment of children under 12 is prohibited."
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Canada is a state party, aims to protect children from child labour. The International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention 182 on the worst forms of child labour also outlaws hazardous work for children. Hazardous work is labour dangerous to the health, safety and morals of a child.
SOSChilldren's Villages, Tuesday August 28 2012
The Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) says the government's decision to withhold information on farm fatalities is an attempt to move the issue to the back burner and off the public radar. The AFL represents over 150,000 Alberta workers.
"Farm workers are already left unprotected under health and safety regulations," says AFL Secretary Treasurer Nancy Furlong. "The decision to cease reporting fatalities is a painful example of how agricultural workers are being erased in Alberta."
The news that the province would stop reporting information on farm worker deaths and injuries was delivered through a government website; the province offered no meaningful explanation for the change.
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.
"It is the government's duty to protect workers, but also to report their deaths and injuries. Death and injury prevention requires knowledge of the frequency and nature of the incidents," says Furlong, noting that the latest data available on the agency now reporting these statistics, the Canadian Agriculture Injury Reporting, is from 2005.
"The Alberta Federation of Labour declared August 20 as Farm Workers Day at our 2005 Convention, and has been calling on the government to allow farm workers the same protections as most Alberta workers enjoy," says Furlong. "It's particularly insulting to the families of those killed on the job to have to call on the government to continue to simply report these incidents.
"This decision to stop reporting the number and nature of farm deaths helps to hide the real problem—Alberta's deplorable lack of workplace protection for farms workers in the province," concludes Furlong.
Workers' Compensation Institute, Tuesday August 28 2012
Province should give farm workers occupational safeguards
The province was called upon again this week to give Alberta farm workers the same protections as those in other occupations, and in other provinces.
The Alberta Federation Labour was among the voices which used the occasion of National Farmworkers' Day, on Monday, to push the province to take action. AFL policy director Shannon Phillips of Lethbridge, in urging the Alberta government to include farm workers in occupational health and safety and employment standards codes, said, "We are currently the only jurisdiction that has no form of protection for farm workers."
NDP agriculture critic David Eggen slammed the province for its lack of action to protect farmers, noting farm labourers are excluded from basic employment standards such as hours of work, overtime, vacation pay or statutory holiday pay.
"Alberta is far behind the rest of Canada in regards to farm workers' safety," said Eggen.
Those calling for action argue that farm workers in Alberta deserve the same protections as workers in any other industry. The province has always countered that it doesn't want to infringe on the operation of the family farm, but protecting farm workers doesn't have to interfere with small farming operations. It's workers in the larger corporate agricultural operations who are most in need of regulations to serve their interests.
Judge Peter Barley, in his report from the fatality inquiry into the 2006 death of farm worker Kevan Chandler, recommended that the province amend the safety act to include paid farm workers. But he indicated that family members and other unpaid workers could still be exempted, so the province's long-held argument against making changes doesn't stand up.
Barley, in his report, noted, "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."
Eric Musekamp, president of the Farmworkers Union of Alberta, has been calling for better protection for farm workers in the province. He noted in a letter to The Herald earlier this summer that Alberta fatality numbers would climb by 19 per cent if agriculture work-related deaths were included. He said that number doesn't include farmworkers who die of workplace diseases or illness, nor does it include motor vehicle crashes which make up a large proportion of workplace deaths in other industries.
Phillips said the province has spent years studying the issue and in the meantime, farm workers continue to die.
There seems to be no good reason why farm workers in Alberta don't have the same occupational protection as those in other industries. It's time for the provincial government to do what it should have already done - put those workers on a level playing field with other workers, and with their counterparts in other provinces.
Lethbridge Herald, Wedn Aug 23 2012
Government accused of ignoring farm workers' rights
The Alberta government's failure to post its annual report of farm work-related fatalities has brought allegations from the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) that the province is deliberately trying to move the issue to the back burner.
However, Agriculture Ministry spokesperson Stuart Elson says the statistics will be posted "shortly," once the ministry finishes its review of how the statistics are reported.
"Some of the information we provided, it was providing a little bit too much detail in terms of identifying victims and putting some additional hardship on the families," says Elson. He says 16 people died while working on Alberta farms in 2011; down from the 22 reported in 2010 but about average for the past decade.
AFL secretary-treasurer Nancy Furlong says she is skeptical about Elson's answer, but says the issue of government inaction on farm worker issues is inexcusable.
The AFL is engaged in a long-term campaign to get farm workers covered by Occupational Health and Safety legislation. Alberta is the only Canadian province that excludes farm workers from labour laws, including rules governing working hours and conditions, age limits, pay and the right to refuse unsafe work.
Last year the AFL, NDP, Liberals, Farmworkers Union of Alberta and United Food and Commercial Workers Canada sent letters to then Agriculture minister Thomas Lukaszuk calling for legislative changes. The government refused, and instead created educational farm safety programs and created a 15-member advisory panel to study the implications of legislative changes. The AFL points out that 11 of the 15 members are agriculture employers, and only one is a worker representative.
On August 21, Liberal MLA David Swann weighed in, calling on major corporations like McDonald's and PepsiCo (owner of Frito Lay) to boycott Alberta-grown potatoes until Occupational Health and Safety, Workers' Compensation Board and child labour laws are expanded to cover agriculture employees.
The provincial government has long held that farm work is fundamentally different from other forms of labour because it traditionally relies on the unpaid labour of family members.
"We just want to make sure that we're bringing forth practical solutions to enhance farming but also respect the rural way of life and the needs of the family farm," explains Elson.
Furlong says that is illogical and ignores the majority of employees in the agriculture industry that work for large-scale operations.
"This is a historical thing, [it] was left over from before we had agribusiness, really, and most of this province was covered over with small farms," says Furlong. "We're going to continue to lobby the government and we're going to continue to hopefully educate the public to say 'this is astounding and outrageous.'"
The AFL represents over 150,000 Alberta workers. It states three-quarters of Alberta farms report incomes over $250,000, and that there are approximately 12,000 "farm workers" in the province. In 2005 the federation declared August 20 as "Farm Workers Day."
FFWD News, Thurs Aug 23 2012
Byline: Suzy Thompson
Alberta's decision to withhold information on farm fatalities is an attempt to move the issue off the public radar, according to the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL), an umbrella union organization representing more than 15,000 workers.
The change was announced "unceremoniously" on a government website, the AFL said.
"The decision to cease reporting fatalities is a painful example of how agricultural workers are being erased in Alberta," said AFL secretary treasurer Nancy Furlong. "It's particularly insulting to the families of those killed on the job to have to call on the government to continue to simply report these incidents."
Alberta is the only province in Canada where farm workers are excluded from occupational health and safety laws, according to the AFL. These workers are also exempt from legislation governing hours of work and overtime, statutory holidays, vacation pay, the right to refuse unsafe work and compensation if they are injured on the job, the organization said.
The AFL finds the change especially troubling in light of a 2008 judicial inquiry into the death of Kevin Chandler, a farm worker killed near High River, Alta., that recommended the inclusion of farm labourers in workplace protection laws.
"It is the government's duty to protect workers, but also to report their deaths and injuries," said Furlong, noting the latest data available from the agency now reporting these statistics, the Canadian Agriculture Injury Reporting, is from 2005.
"Death and injury prevention requires knowledge of the frequency and nature of the incidents," Furlong said.
The province's NDP also criticized the government, calling for legislative changes that would extend health and safety regulations to Alberta's farm workers.
"Frankly, it's disturbing that the lives and livelihoods of Alberta's farm workers mean so little to this government," says NDP agriculture critic David Eggen.
There have been 160 farm-related deaths between 2001 and 2011, the NDP said in a press release.
"This is challenging, dangerous work, and I'm calling on the government today to give farm workers the same rights and protections given to almost all other working Albertans," Eggen said.
The Alberta Liberal Party also spoke out against the issue.
"In Alberta, paid farm workers work without the basic rights and benefits of all other paid employees," said David Swann, the party's agriculture critic. "We must recognize that Albertans are being nourished at the expense of farm workers' health, safety and labour fairness."
There has been an average of 30 farm deaths a year over the last 20 years, Swann said.
Cnd HR Reporter, Thomson Reuters, Tues Aug 21 2012
EDMONTON – The Alberta Federation of Labour is criticizing the provincial government for no longer reporting farm fatalities.
The federation says the move is an example of how "agricultural workers are being erased in Alberta."
"This decision to stop reporting the number and nature of farm deaths helps to hide the real problem – Alberta's deplorable lack of workplace protection for farms workers in the province," spokeswoman Nancy Furlong said in a release Monday.
"It's particularly insulting to the families of those killed on the job to have to call on the government to continue to simply report these incidents."
The federation says the province is the only one in Canada where farm workers aren't covered by occupational health and safety laws. It says they are also excluded from legislation on hours of work and overtime, statutory holidays and vacation pay.
A judicial inquiry in 2008 into the death of worker Kevin Chandler in a farm accident near High River, Alta., recommended the inclusion of farm labourers in laws ensuring workplace protections.
"It is the government's duty to protect workers, but also to report their deaths and injuries. Death and injury prevention requires knowledge of the frequency and nature of the incidents," said Furlong.
The federation says the province announced its plans on a government website and offered no meaningful explanation for the change.
Alberta Agriculture said Monday it is reviewing how it publishes information about farm worker deaths and injuries with an eye to protecting the privacy of victims and their families.
Stuart Elson, a ministry spokesman, said updated statistics could be available later this week.
On the larger question of when or if the government will introduce workplace safety legislation to protect farms workers, Elson said at least two ministries are studying the issue.
"Education and awareness are best suited to the practical realities of farming," he said.
"We are continuing to work with the Ministry of Human Services to improve farm safety. That is all I can really say at this point."
The NDP's agriculture critic used a stop in Lethbridge, Alta., to blast the government for what he called inaction on workplace safety for farm workers.
David Eggen said it's disturbing that the lives of Alberta labourers on the land appear to mean so little to the government.
"It's very dangerous work and farm workers are not being protected with the basic rights that other workers have here in Alberta," Eggen said.
"They're far behind the rest of Canadian farm workers and now suddenly (Premier Alison) Redford makes the page go dark on the statistics that we can use to track farm workers here in the province."
Liberal critic David Swann said there are an average of 30 farm deaths a year over the last 20 years.
"Despite the number of injuries and deaths amongst farm workers ... the government has undertaken no action to require improved health and safety conditions surrounding paid agriculture employees," he said in a release.
Edmonton Journal, Monday Aug 20 2012