Lukaszuk moves on workplace fairness

Alberta Employment and Immigration Minister Thomas Lukaszuk is promising to make workplaces in the province fairer, cracking down on employers who fail to pay fair wages and benefits.

Lukaszuk announced Wednesday the government is going to hire six new Employment Standards officers, increase the use of outside auditors and put out more information for employers so they know what is expected.

"I am putting those employers who don't comply on notice that we are stepping up our efforts to improve fairness for employees in Alberta through enforcement and education," he said.

He said the increase in inspectors was a necessary response to a move that department made last year to allow Albertans to file complaints online.

That new website was launched in December and, between then and the end of the government's fiscal year in April, the department saw a 20 per cent increase in complaints, rising to 6,484 claims from the 5,454 the department saw the year before.

"Our complaints have gone up so we are stepping up our officers to keep up with that."

Lukaszuk said that, while the move to allow complaints over the web has led to more work, it was clearly the right thing for the province to do.

"You want Albertans and temporary foreign workers and other Canadians who work in Alberta to feel comfortable and not be encumbered in their ability to file a complaint."

Lukaszuk said some employers in the province don't fully grasp the rules, while others are simply flaunting them, and it is that group the province will be keeping an especially close eye on.

"There are some who simply choose not to follow regulations and that is the group that we will be focusing on with additional enforcement."

Lukaszuk said the new inspectors should be in place within the next few weeks and the money was already part of last year's budget.

Liberal critic Hugh MacDonald called the government's move overdue and insufficient.

"This is a good first step. I would certainly encourage the minister now to rigorously enforce the employment standards act, through the courts if necessary."

MacDonald said it is unfair to responsible employers and hurts the economy when bad employers get away with bad behaviour.

"How can you compete if you are a good employer and other people in your sector are knowingly not paying vacation pay, short-changing employees on their wages?"

The Alberta Federation of Labour was also not warm to the minister's announcement, suggesting the government needs to take a more proactive approach.

"Resolving the complaint by providing one person their overtime doesn't change the pervasive belief that employers don't have to pay overtime," said Nancy Furlong, the organization's secretary-treasurer.

She said many workers fear retribution from their employer if they raise a complaint.

"I know — anecdotally, of course — quite a few people who won't enforce their own rights because they are certain they will be fired if they ask for overtime."

She said the government should do more to make sure workers know their rights.

"There needs to be some serious education of workers on their rights and their entitlements as opposed to a toolkit for employers."

St. Albert Gazette, Sat Aug 13 2011

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