Tuesday, September 02, 2008

The poll results the Alberta government didn't want you to see

In 2005 the Alberta government reluctantly agreed to consultations on the province's 20 year old employment standards laws. They've been fighting ever since to keep the results under wraps.

In 2005, the Alberta government embarked on an ambitious public consultation to find out what changes the public wanted to the Employment Standards Code. This review was long overdue - the Code had not been amended in almost 20 years. The AFL was pleased the government was looking at making changes to the outdated and clunky Code. That good feeling didn't last long, as not a single legislative or regulatory change has occurred to the Employment Standards Code. The consultation died without a single improvement to the Code.

As part of the consultation, the government commissioned a public opnion survey of 400 employers and 400 workers to guage opinions about certain elements of the Code. The poll was conducted in the fall of 2005.

The AFL wondered why the consultation resulted in nothing, and thought the poll might reveal a reason. The AFL submitted a FOIP request to receive a copy of the poll questions and results. The government refused. The AFL appealed to the Commissioner.

When the results were finally, grudgingly released by order of the Commissioner the results were surprising. A majority of both employers and employees wanted increased protection for workers injured on the job, disagreed with the governments decision to allow child labour in the province by lowering the working age to 12 and opposed the excluding of basic rights from farm workers. Alberta farm workers are not covered by workplace injury laws and are legally prohibited from organizing to protect their interests.

It turns out that Alberta employers are just as opposed to this Dickensian state of affairs as Alberta workers are.

In the case of farmworkers, the Employment Standards Code currently excludes this group of workers from most protections. Farmworkers have no right to a minimum wage, to limits on hours of work, to overtime pay or to statutory holiday pay. They also are not protected by the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

Only 15 per cent of employers and 16 per cent of workers believe these exemptions are fair. The vast majority of Albertans want some or all of the exclusions removed. In other words, Albertans appreciate that farmworkers have as much right to basic protections as the rest of us. The poll also revealed Albertans want some consideration for family farms, demonstrating they know the difference between a small family operation and a big industrial farm.

Too bad the Conservatives can't see the difference.

It's long past the time that labour law in Alberta entered the 21st Century and the only response the Alberta government has to the issue is to fight tooth and nail to avoid revealing that the majority of Albertans want change.

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