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AUPE asks for $200 million more in public sector wages amid pandemic

AUPE filed this week a collective bargaining complaint to the Alberta Labour Relations Board amid ongoing bargaining negotiations with the province.

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Public sector grievances continue as the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) entered another spat with Alberta’s government to increase member wages.

AUPE filed this week a collective bargaining complaint to the Alberta Labour Relations Board amid ongoing bargaining negotiations with the province.

Alberta’s Treasury Board and Finance said the complaint is without merit.

“The Government of Alberta is bargaining in good faith,” Minister Travis Toews said in a press release.

AUPE’s complaint focuses on the government’s proposal, which is standard procedure for the bargaining process.

Alberta’s government is currently negotiating a new collective agreement with more than 21,000 unionized Alberta Public Service Employees represented by the AUPE. They have met several times since early 2020 and agreed to pause negotiations for much of the past year due to the pandemic.

The parties met again at the beginning of February and focused on the agreement’s non-monetary aspects. While there are still items that need to be discussed, both sides continue to work together and make significant progress.

They will meet again in March to continue the dialogue towards a new agreement.

“The proposal that the government of Alberta has set is reasonable,” said Toews in response to the AUPE-led push for an additional $200 million in public sector wages.

This push comes amid the government offering up a one-time payment of $1,200 to frontline workers, including grocery clerks, healthcare and education professionals, and others who engaged in high-risk, public-facing work with the continued easing of public health measures.

In 2019-20, Alberta spent $27.3 billion on public sector compensation, representing a whopping 54 per cent of the Alberta government’s operating budget. It is the largest single expense in the provincial budget.

“Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the worldwide economic recession, there is an added urgency to get the province’s spending under control,” said Toews.

“In these tough economic times, Albertans expect that the government will be responsible stewards of the public purse,” he said.

With more than half of Alberta’s funds paying public sector compensation, including nurses, healthcare professionals, teachers and those who work for the government, finding compensation efficiencies will allow more funds to go toward the programs and services that Albertans need.

“The government needs to ensure this cost is fair and results in the highest level of services for Albertans,” said Toews.

“We will make every reasonable effort to negotiate and work through next steps in the process to reach an agreement that reflects the province’s current economic and fiscal reality.”

Putting things into perspective, each 1 per cent increase in public sector compensation costs taxpayers $270 million annually – funding that could go to healthcare, education and other vital services.

The Western Standard reached out to the AUPE for comment with no response at the time of publication.

Dhaliwal is the Western Standard’s Edmonton reporter.

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New Sask law exempts employers from COVID-19 lawsuits

The release bragged that Saskatchewan was one of only five jurisdictions with such extensive sexual harassment protections, but after the legislation was passed, Morgan defended the COVID-19 provisions as being common.

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By Lee Harding

Employees’ quests for legal COVID-19 recourse has died with recently passed legislation that is “protecting vulnerable workers” according to Labour Minister Don Morgan.

Legislation recently passed by the Government of Saskatchewan prevents employers from being sued for implementing measures listed in the Public Employers’ COVID-19 Emergency Regulations or the Employers’ COVID-19 Emergency Regulations.

Amendments to the Saskatchewan Employment Act say “no action or proceeding lies or shall be commenced or maintained against an employer” if that employer acts in good faith.

“It’s broad general thing that would cover anything related to COVID-19 — signage, lack of signage, whatever else might reasonably arise from it. The threshold is that they must act in good faith,” said Morgan.

“We aren’t trying to target a specific lawsuit that’s been started or being threatened … But we know that COVID-19 vaccines, etc., are a worldwide issue right now and we want to be able to encourage our employers to have some comfort that they’re not going to be subject to lawsuits.”

The legislation applies regardless of when a perceived transgression may have occurred. The amendment received royal assent November 30. However, when the Saskatchewan Employment Amendment Act, 2021 was first announced in a press release November 18, nothing about COVID-19 was even mentioned.

Although the opening sentence mentioned “better and safer workplaces for employers and employees” the rest of the release concerned details about sexual harassment and union bargaining provisions.

Now the Labour Relations Board must exclude supervisors from the same bargaining unit as those they supervise, wherever possible. Sexual harassment at the workplace is now defined as any unwelcome action of a sexual nature, and provisions of the act extend beyond employees to include independent contractors, students, and volunteers.

“The legislation that governs our employers and employees needs to address the challenges of the modern work environment, including protecting vulnerable workers,” Morgan wrote in the release. “These amendments will help us build a stronger, safer and healthier Saskatchewan.”

fact sheet the release linked to concluded with a brief mention of COVID-19.

“We are introducing a provision that will provide protection for public and private sector employers that comply with the new COVID-19 vaccination regulations. These regulations give the employee the choice of showing evidence of being fully vaccinated or evidence of a negative COVID-19 test at least every seven days.”

The release bragged Saskatchewan was one of only five jurisdictions with such extensive sexual harassment protections, but after the legislation was passed, Morgan defended the COVID-19 provisions as being common.

“That’s being done generally across North America,” Morgan said.

The same day Morgan made his comments, a post on the Freedom Alliance Facebook page suggested a strong desire for legal recourse alongside skepticism, and an apparent unawareness of the new provincial law.

“Does anyone here know of any lawyers in Saskatoon that believe in the same rights and freedom as we do? I believe it’s time to really do something about losing my source of income 

“The couple lawyers I did speak with basically said the pandemic supersedes all our rights! Would be great if we found a lawyer that called out the BS! Might have to source out to other provinces,” replied Michielle Ross Noble.

“At the mine I work at they had a lawyer go to bat and it seems to be that the government is above the law and beyond the constitution. Money talks louder than laws these days,” replied Garrick Bernard.

“I also live near Saskatoon,” replied Ron Chappell. “Good luck finding a lawyer that will stand up for your rights and freedoms. Seems these evils are above the law including the Canadian charter of rights and freedoms. There should be lawsuits going on everywhere. Either we don’t hear about them or they are not happening. Justin Trudeau is [a] tyrant.”

To this Funk made what proved to be a moot reply.

“Then a group of us should band together and file lawsuits! Who’s with me?”

Harding is a reporter based in Saskatchewan

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Maverick leader describes his perfect successor

“I am aware of three or four people who are seriously considering running for leadership,” interim leader Jay Hill told the Western Standard.

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Jay Hill, interim leader of the federal Maverick Party, says he hopes for a candidate for his replacement is someone that can “move the provinces and premiers towards greater autonomy for the West.”

On Wednesday, the Maverick Party released the rules for its leadership race that will see a new leader elected May 14, 2022.

The party will officially be accepting leadership applications as early as January 3 with a deadline of April 30.

Hill says he hopes to see two to six candidates apply.

“I am aware of three or four people who are seriously considering running for leadership,” Hill told the Western Standard.

“We’re more so focused on the quality side of things rather than quantity.”

The Maverick Party, formerly known as Wexit Canada, advocates for greater autonomy for Western Canadian provinces including BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and the three territories.

“I’d like to see someone with the right vision and oratory skills to communicate with passion for Western Canadians,” said Hill.

Hill pointed to Quebec’s position within Canada and said the Maverick Party supports moving the western provinces in that direction.

Included in the list of rules for those interested in throwing their hat into the leadership race is a registration fee set at $10,000.

“Our governing council really struggled with that fee,” said Hill, who indicated the registration fee is still “substantially less” than any of the other federal parties.  

“We were really aiming for the right balance — that sweet spot — where you want to be realistic and make it doable and not a deterrent.

“It’s efficient to get serious contenders with serious commitment to register and not those with frivolous reasons.”

Hill, the former House leader for the Conservative Party of Canada, said he’s “too old” to run the party moving forward.

“My roll in elected office is done,” said Hill, adding he was done with the “high stress and high drama” when he quit federal politics in the fall of 2010.

When a new leader is elected in May, Hill plans to stay on and assist the party “depending on the needs of the new leader and how he or she feels I can contribute the most.”

Hill said he is excited and is looking forward to “a good, credible and lively leadership race.”

Melanie Risdon is a reporter for the Western Standard
mrisdon@westernstandardonline.com

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Maverick Party petition calls for carbon tax break for Canadians

Canadians will soon have to choose between food on their tables or heat in their homes,” the petition reads.

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The Maverick Party, with a newly launched petition, is calling on the federal government to suspend the collection of carbon taxes from Canadians from January 1 to April 1, 2022.

Carbon tax is a levy imposed on human activity that results in carbon emissions being released into the atmosphere, usually by the burning of fossil fuels like gasoline, natural gas and coal.

The petition notes although carbon taxes are designed to “change behaviour,” the rising costs of living are an “added extra burden” on taxpayers.  

The petition also says the party “understands that the cost of living is increasing at a pace that families can’t keep up with,” pointing to “skyrocketing” inflation and the cost of essential items rising.

“Many Canadians will soon have to choose between food on their tables or heat in their homes,” the petition reads.

“The federal government can alleviate some of the burden by declaring a carbon tax moratorium on New Year’s Day 2022.”

The Maverick Party is demanding the government give Canadians who are “drowning financially” a break to get through what will likely be “the most expensive winter in memory,”

The Trudeau government implemented the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act in 2019 that was upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada in March of this year.

“Putting a price on carbon pollution is widely recognized as the most efficient means to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while also driving innovation,” the Government of Canada states on its website.

Melanie Risdon is a reporter for the Western Standard
mrisdon@westernstandardonline.com

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