Although there have been amendments over the years, some labour laws have remained untouched since 1976
Now, it's time to "unstack the deck," says Alberta Federation of Labour President Gil McGowan.
- Alberta union prepares for biggest round of contract talks with right to strike
- Alberta couple pays high price advocating for farm workers' rights
McGowan has led the AFL for 12 years. He says every time a new labour minister was appointed, he would deliver the same message.
This time is no different.
"We feel strongly that Alberta law needs to be updated to make sure that Albertans have the same kind of rights and protection in the workplace that are enjoyed by other Canadians," McGowan said.
And although there have been amendments over the years, some labour laws have remained untouched since 1976.
Bob Barnetson, an associate professor of labour relations at Athabasca University, says there are key areas on the government's radar that, if changed, would make it easier to organize unions and land a first contract.
Barnetson says Alberta has among "the most regressive labour laws" in Canada.
He says bringing in what's known as "first-contract legislation" and a "card check" system of certifying a union would lead to more organized workplaces in Alberta.
First contract, or first-arbitration legislation, would impose a first contract through arbitration, if a contract couldn't be reached through bargaining, according to Barnetson.
'Alberta law needs to be updated to make sure that Albertans have the same kind of rights and protection in the workplace that are enjoyed by other Canadians.'- Gil McGowan, President, Alberta Federation of Labour
"It sounds far more Draconian than it actually is," Barnetson says, adding that the existence of legislation is an incentive for employers to work through the process to reach a collective agreement.
A "card check" system of forming a union requires employees to simply sign a card or petition. The current system in Alberta requires a mandated follow-up vote by members 10 days after registering with the Alberta Labour Relations Board.
"The delay that goes on between applying and having the vote gives the employer the time to terrorize the bargaining unit and put a chill on the organizing drive," Barnetson says.
"When you go from card check to voting, certification applications drop by half and there's a significant drop in the success rate."
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) says although its members support balanced labour laws, it wants to participate in any discussion before changes are made.
Amber Ruddy, director of provincial affairs for the CFIB in Calgary, says if the government is considering a "modernization" of labour laws, they should be considered "thoughtfully and thoroughly."
With 10,000 small and medium-sized employers, Ruddy says most don't have the benefit of administrative support or human resource departments to adjust to new rules or regulations.
"If there are significant changes to any areas, vacation allowances, paid leave, any further requirements, we'd want to see those proposals come forward right away and have small business owners weigh in," Ruddy said.
- Former Alberta oilpatch workers hesitant to return as activity picks up
- Nearly one in five Alberta workers earns $15 an hour or less, advocacy group says
"It's not a great time to be layering on new costs and new regulations," Ruddy said.
If the government does want to bring in "progressive" changes, it will face pushback, McGowan says.
"There's no doubt that right-wingers and some in the employer community will claim that the sky is falling," he said.
'Work life in Alberta has changed a lot'
Labour Minister Christina Gray said in an emailed statement she is committed to reviewing Alberta's labour laws to ensure they reflect today's workplace, but declined to specify what changes are coming.
"Albertans deserve modern, fair and family-friendly workplaces," Gray said.
"In some cases, Alberta's labour legislation has not been reviewed in decades. The nature of work life in Alberta has changed a lot in that time."
A report reviewing Alberta's Workers' Compensation Board is expected this spring.
The next session of the legislature begins March 2, with the introduction of a new budget sometime in March.