Alberta’s premier made a show of cleaning house on Sept. 21 when he shuffled his cabinet and moved Tyler Shandro from the Ministry of Health to another file, but Jason Kenney’s hands are far from clean.
Alberta is an out-of-control COVID-19 petri dish thanks to his lack of leadership. Even if it weren’t, Alberta has a long way to go before its workplace protections are up to snuff, says AUPE Vice-President and Occupational Health & Safety (OHS) Committee Chair Bonnie Gostola.
“We have a big battle ahead, and COVID-19 has only made it more dire,” she says. “Our OHS committee, along with the entire union, won’t stop fighting until Alberta’s legislated protections match the risks workers shoulder every day when they don their uniforms, switch on their computers, or punch the clock.”
Workplace disease, injury and death should have been condemned to history, yet all three fates continue to haunt our workplaces.
AUPE members aren’t working in rat-infested factories or crawling along collapsing coal mines, but working on the front lines of Alberta’s critical public services poses its own risks. Whether we’re operating heavy machinery on a treacherous highway, lifting a patient out of a hospital bed, snowmobiling into a remote corner of a forest, or working short-staffed, we’ve always faced serious mental and physical hazards at work. That’s why it’s so important that we get involved in joint OHS committees at our worksites!
“Our OHS committee, along with the entire union, won’t stop fighting until Alberta’s legislated protections match the risks workers shoulder every day when they don their uniforms, switch on their computers, or punch the clock.”
Changes are also needed at a legislative and policy level, especially since COVID-19 swooped into our work lives like a bat out of hell and made our jobs unnervingly perilous. Between Jan. 1, 2020 and Aug. 31, 2021, the Alberta Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) accepted 11,152 COVID-19 claims, of those, 25 were fatality claims.
These numbers are devastating, a sombre reminder that just because a workplace hazard is invisible doesn’t mean it’s innocuous. Gostola says that the threat of more pandemics and “invisible” OHS concerns in the future means we must work even harder to hold the provincial government accountable for updating Employment Standards, OHS legislation, and WCB legislation to match the realities of the modern workplace.
“Since the UCP didn’t step up during the biggest health crisis of our generation, AUPE members are raising their voices, and we’re pushing for optimal protections, rather than the subpar standards the province currently enforces,” she says. So, we’ve compiled a laundry list to get the provincial government started.
“Health-and-safety issues are evolving faster than the shields we have against them,” says Gostola. “There’s no reason for this. Kenney needs to get with the times or get out of office. He’s supposed to be a premier, not a nasty nineteenth century factory foreman. Workers deserve a leader, not a dictator, in times of crisis, and they need real supports to protect themselves against completely avoidable injuries, deaths and illnesses on the job.”