Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Whose interests drive regulation in Alberta?

I take a fair bit of heat from former colleagues when I posit that Alberta is less interesting is making workplaces safe than it is in creating the appearance of safety while minimizing costs to employers. Yet preferring employer interests over worker interests is a recurring theme. In recent years, for example, employer groups have gotten laxer child labour laws, a two-tier minimum wage, and less effective labour laws.

The Edmonton Journal is reporting another (non-employment) example of this dynamic. Alberta is considering altering its fire safety rules by leaving it to the owners of rental properties to determine whether a bedroom has reasonable egress routes in the event of a fire.

Presently, bedrooms must have windows (easily opened and of a specified size) or a direct door outside or a sprinkler system. These rules are important. Since 2005, eight Albertans have died in rental suites that did not comply with these rules. The lack of rental accommodation during booms and the lack of renter knowledge about fire safety mean that only government regulation can effectively prevent unsafe suites.

The current rules have been under pressure from property management companies and there have seen several court challenges. Having won those challenges and received $46,000 in donations ($26k to the conservative party and $20k to premier Redford’s leadership campaign), the government has now decided that loosening the rules would be a good idea.

The question this raises is in whose interests does the government actually legislate? The public’s interest? Or employers’ interests? It is increasingly clear that employer interests receive preferential treatment. Consequently, I won’t hold my breath that the workplace safety ticketing system promised only last fall (after 8 years of dithering) will materialize anytime soon.

-- Bob Barnetson

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