Alberta law will tilt things even more against unions, workers


PAYING YOUR DUES IN ALBERTA SOON WON’T BE ENOUGH. You’ll have to do more to get your union to do all the things unions have always done. You’ll have to specifically direct your union to go ahead and do all you want them to do.

This “opt-in” requirement is one part of what Jason Kenney calls the Restoring Balance in Alberta’s Workplaces Act (Bill 32)—a piece of legislation he introduced July 7 that will not restore balance. It will instead tilt things even more in favour of bosses over workers, not to mention welcoming back practices from the dark ages like child labour.

Government dictates ‘core union activities’

Bill 32, will allow what the government considers “core union activities” but no more. Signing a union card and paying dues won’t be enough. The act will also require workers to explicitly opt-in to any union support for political parties or social justice causes, like anti-racism, women’s rights, peace, or anti-poverty.

Popular anger and opposition to the bill was immediate and broad. Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour (AFL) declared:“We will fight on the political stage, we will fight in the courts, and if necessary, we will fight in the streets.” The AFL “Defend Worker Rights” campaign aims to rally popular opposition with an online petition and an email your MLA campaign.

“Corporations also lobby governments and run campaigns but they won’t face the same cumbersome restriction on their freedom of expression as unions,” says McGowan

“Of course, that’s the whole point. Corporations and the wealthy already have far more power than workers but Jason Kenney and the UCP want to tip the scales even further in their favour.”

McGowan said he expects union lobbying for things like health and safety or paid sick leave would be labelled as political.

Child labour welcomed back

Perhaps the most troubling—and certainly the most sinister—part of the bill is that the government will expand the types of jobs 13- and 14-year-olds are allowed to do without a permit. Effectively undoing over a century of laws prohibiting child labour.

This Dickensian provision, removing protection from children, was presented by Labour Minister Jason Copping as a way to help Alberta youth “who are already struggling to find employment here in Alberta.” Copping said that includes jobs like dishwashing, light office work or janitorial work.

Despite the elimination of the need for a permit to employ children, Copping was anxious to point out the various health and safety standards that apply to all workers will continue to apply to child workers as well.

“These are just some of the ways flexible rules around employment standards will help the business recovery and help Albertans return to work so they can take care of themselves and their families,” said Copping.

“Great news, I guess,” noted Alberta journalist David Climenhaga, “if you’re a 13-year-old who heads their own household. And why so restrictive, one wonders. Don’t 11- and 12-year-olds need work too? Especially if they’re tall!”

Copping said the government can trust employers to do the right thing. Plus, “we fully expect parents to be involved with their kids in terms of, you know, where are they working and what they can do.”
This makes parents the first, and only, line of defence for their children at work.

Unions won’t be able to help because this legislation is principally designed to hamper, if not eliminate, the possibility of any union protections.

The proposed bill also includes:

  • changes to where and how a union can picket
  • the possibility of early renewal of a collective agreement
  • the continuation of an existing collective agreement if workers choose a new union
  • permission for employers to deduct paycheque overpayments without an employee’s written authorization
  • a 30-day extension to temporary layoff periods not related to Covid-19
  • an end to requiring employers to include vacation pay and general holiday pay in the average daily wage calculation.

Bill 32 has absolutely nothing to do with creating balance in Alberta’s workplaces. It is designed to keep the balance in Alberta’s workplaces exactly where it was and is—heavily tilted in favour of employers.

Click to link to Defend Worker Rights campaign

For added commentary on the larger significance of Bill 32 click here and here.

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