Alberta: Confronting the Monstrosity of Bill 32

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by Victor Goosen

The United Conservative Party of Alberta has a new plan to save the economy. Like an Alt-right superhero the UCP seems to think that by swooping in to foster low-paying, no-benefits, barely sustainable jobs, it can do the trick. The truth is that Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is more akin to a super villain.

The UCP portrays the legislation of the previous NDP Government as job killing. While downplaying the earlier crash of oil prices, Kenny blames NDP policy on workers’ rights as the problem. Meanwhile, the UPC sinks billions into a foreign-owned oil pipeline, and slashes programs that would have brought good new technology opportunities to Alberta.

Bill 32 is omnibus legislation that makes changes to six different labor relations laws at once. It is driven almost entirely on the backs of hardworking Albertans, delivering to the rich donors and friends of the current government tax kickbacks while destroying environmental legislation that stands in their path to potential private profits.

The United Conservative Party brags about how this legislation will save corporate “job creators” an estimated $100 million annually by reducing “red tape”, also known as minimum labor standards. Theirs is an exercise in reducing workers’ rights and increasing part-time, no-quality-of-life minimum wage jobs. It is likely that there is worse to come in the next provincial legislative session.

Bill 32 is obnoxiously named the Restoring Balance in Alberta’s Workplaces Act.  Balance, really? Alberta currently has some of the lowest labor standards in Canada!  Workers’ rights should be enhanced rather than clawed back.

The man in charge of this monstrosity is the Minister of RED Tape Reduction, MLA Grant Hunter. His mandate as Minister appears to be making businesses profitable no matter who gets hurt.

The one bone the UCP tossed to labour is the clarification that employees continue to accrue vacation time on a job- protected leave. But when one is a part-time employee barely scraping by, talk of vacation time is moot.

This bill goes hand in hand with the sweeping Bill 1 which makes it virtually illegal to protest anywhere in Alberta — from the highways and pipelines, right down to the alleys and ditches. Now it is also illegal to conduct a legal strike in Alberta if it inhibits business in any way — essentially stifling the voice of workers in the work place.

Bill 32 crafters claim to be “creating simpler and more flexible rules for general holiday pay, group terminations, and payment of final earnings upon termination”.  Whom do you suppose that provision will serve? Is it for the working class, or for the corporate owners who would love the ability to lay-off or fire at a whim, and rehire at a lower wage? It is absolutely not for the worker who is scrambling to make ends meet.

The Alberta government has declared war on the working class. The only recourse for workers is to fight back with escalating protest actions, including a general strike in Alberta. If the UCP government succeeds, other provinces may try to impose similar draconian measures. Every worker in Canada is threatened if this law is allowed to stand.

Gil McGowan, President of the Alberta Federation of Labor, puts it this way: “Many people remember the famous western, ‘The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.’  Well, if Bill 32 was a movie it would be called ‘The Bad, the Even Worse, and the Unconstitutional’.”

The question is:  What will the AFL and the Alberta NDP do about it?