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Alberta's public sector, unemployed and young workforce losing ground

How exactly can our province’s public sector, unemployed and young work force fight back?

Cochrane and area residents, and most of western Canada, are sleeping under extra blankets and grumbling over the recent blast of frigid arctic weather.


Parents are fielding this question from their offspring every morning: “Will school be cancelled today?”


We have a full work load lined up at our nine to five job and we’re hoping we won’t be saddled with last minute childcare needs.


It’s difficult to consider the tremendous chore of supervising our children - brimming with cabin fever - during indoor recesses through this relentless cold snap. At times we even overlook a teacher’s responsibility as just child minding, when in fact these dedicated professionals work tirelessly and with little respect or appreciation from the general public.


President of the province’s Treasury Board and Minister of Finance Travis Toews announced last Friday (Jan. 10) that teachers belonging to the Alberta’s Teachers Association (ATA) will receive no wage increase.


He cites the province’s “current economic realities” as the reason and reiterated that no public sector raises are allotted in the fiscal plan as outlined in Alberta’s budget last fall.


Teacher’s weren’t surprised, but ATA president Jason Schilling points out that since 2012 teacher salary increases have been 0, 0, 0, 2, 0, 0, 0, and 0. Schilling said the province hasn’t been in recession for eight years and teachers “have already done their share”.


The current collective bargaining agreement expires this August and negotiations toward a new agreement will commence in March. Unlike our temperatures this week, these negotiations are forecasted to be a heated debate.


Nurses in the province were also impacted by this wage freeze. Alberta Health Services’ lead negotiator to the United Nurses of Alberta revealed in late November that 500 full-time positions would be eliminated over three years.


The province’s Minister of Health Tyler Shandro was apparently boasting on Twitter about all the meetings he’s had with frontline health workers. On Jan. 7 a representative from Health Sciences Association of Alberta (HSAA), the labour union that represents more than 26,000 paramedical technical, professional and general support employees in the public and private health-care sectors, tweeted: “We have been trying to meet with you since you were sworn in (251 days ago now) and have been repeatedly denied”.


Later that day Shandro agreed to a meeting with the union on the condition that issues pertaining to collective bargaining negotiations aren’t raised. Let’s hope that the province’s other labour organizations take note of HSAA’s method of getting the attention of the UCP.   


Also on Jan. 10, Canada’s Labour Force Survey shone a grim light on Alberta’s job crisis and Jason Kenney’s policies. The survey revealed that the province’s unemployment rate increased to 7 per cent last December. Notably, the youth unemployment rate rose almost 3.9 percentage points to 14.7 per cent which highlights the failure of Kenney’s job creation student wage.


The survey also revealed that Alberta’s labour force and participation rate shrank. This indicates that more unemployed workers gave up looking for work. It could also mean that many have given up on this province and have moved elsewhere.


Kenney’s $30 million taxpayer funded ‘energy war room’ intends to promote Alberta’s oil sands and resurrect the industry. Last week Kavi Bal, press secretary to Alberta’s Energy Minister Sonya Savage, told a reporter from The Star’s Edmonton bureau that the organization won’t be divulging how they’re spending tax payer’s money. Bal said they will not be publicly posting “line-by-line expenses to ensure the effectiveness of our overall fightback strategy.”


How exactly can our province’s public sector, unemployed and young work force fight back?