Friday, April 26, 2013

The "rationale" for excluding Alberta farmworkers from basic safety rights

Alberta Views has recently published its annual labour issue. There are a couple of interesting articles:

  • I have written about the various reasons that the government has advanced for denying farmworkers basic workplace rights.
  • Diana Gibson has also written a piece about replacing the minimum wage with a living wage.

Both pieces are well worth a look-see.

-- Bob Barnetson

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The end of public-sector collective bargaining in Alberta?

The blog Alberta Diaries has an interesting piece today about the end of public-sector collective bargaining in Alberta. Unlike other jurisdictions, where this entails legislation and protests, Alberta has quietly made the process of bargaining meaningless by issuing edicts to public-sector bodies. 

For example, Advanced Education Minister Thomas “cornflakes” Lukaszuk has written to each college, university and technical institute Board and told them to negotiate “annual percentage general wage changes over four years of not more than 0/0/0/2” and also to further cut salary costs by remedying “inefficiencies” incurrent agreements.

While Lukaszuk denies existing contracts must be opened, he does not deny that he expects Boards to comply with his edict. And, lo, the government-appointed Boards filled with Tory hacks are doing that exact thing. In bargaining with its faculty, Athabasca University has held firm to an opening position of 0/0/re-opener (which will likely be a zero) as well as cuts to merit increments and furlough days. These changes will transfer $3m from workers to the administration over two years and $23m over ten years. 

What this means is that, while post-secondary employees notionally are negotiating with their individual Boards of Governors (appointed by the government), these negotiations are meaningless because the government has predetermined the Boards' bargaining positions, both by constraining funding and by issuing a bargaining directive. This is akin to how teacher collective bargaining has been operating for a number of years.

The result of this interference in negotiations is that they are failing. Athabasca University and its faculty association are headed to arbitration because the Board is holding fast to an offer it admits that it can’t win at arbitration! In effect, the Minister has hollowed out the process of negotiation to the point where it is meaningless. This is impressive work for only being on the job for three months.

-- Bob Barnetson

Monday, April 15, 2013

Employee reward scheme reduces productivity?

I ran across an interesting study of employee award programs. Award programs are often thought to be a low-cost way to trigger additional worker productivity (e.g., increasing output, reducing waste, reducing injuries). The Dirty Laundry of Employee Award Programs: Evidence from the Field revealed two types of unintended consequences when a reward-scheme was implemented in an industrial laundry plant.

First, employees gamed the incentive scheme. Chronically tardy employees amended their behaviour just enough to avoid disqualification for the awards, but were still tardy. When ineligible for a reward, they reverted to their prior behaviour. And employees were more likely to call in sick (rather than be tardy) to retain their eligibility for attendance-based rewards. This behaviour is not really much different than the well known effect of “injury-free days” programs, whereby workers hide injuries to maintain their eligibility for the reward.

Second, employees with perfect attendance or high productivity saw a 6-8% decrease in productivity. Although there was no relationship between productivity and the rewards (which were attendance based), the reward system appears to have negatively affected the intrinsic motivation of high performers (likely due to perceptions of unfairness).

Overall, the scheme saw a 1.4% reduction in productivity. This effect meant that the costs of the program were not covered by improved performance and, in fact, the program degraded overall performance. So much for a low-cost motivational tool! This study raises some compelling questions, both about the validity of basic models of worker motivation and the utility of "common-sense" HR tools.

-- Bob Barnetson

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Temporary foreign worker fiasco

In the wake of the Royal Bank scandal about displacing Canadian workers with foreign workers,  the AFL published some details about the accelerated temporary foreign worker program.
Between April 25 and December 18, 2012, more than 2,400 ALMO guest-worker permits – which are supposed to be reserved for highly-skilled employment – have been granted to fast-food restaurants, convenience stores and gas stations. ...
More than 54 per cent (2,640) of the ALMO approvals in the country were for Alberta-based employers. Of these, AFL researchers flagged more than 58 per cent (1,542) as questionable. The list of businesses in Alberta who received ALMO approvals included 33 A&W restaurants. 
 Rather than rant on, I will refer you to David Doorey's blog post on the topic.

-- Bob Barnetson

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Skill shortage exaggerated?

The Bank on Montreal has released a report suggesting that the so-called skill shortage that the federal conservatives are using to justify skills training funding in their budget is exaggerated. Canada's unemployment rate is about 7%.  According to the CBC:
That's much lower than it was during the depths of the recession. But many private sector groups and some within the federal government warn that the number belies the reality of the job market, which is that there aren't enough qualified people to work badly needed jobs in the fast-growing resources sector. 
But a report from Bank of Montreal published late Tuesday questions that narrative, pointing out that only 25 per cent of companies polled in the Bank of Canada's latest business outlook survey reported a lack of qualified workers. That's actually 10 percentage points below the 15-year average of 35 per cent.

It is also 15% below results from 1999 and 2004/05 (the last time unemployment was at 7.0%). While the notion that the skills gap is not really that significant runs contrary to the rhetoric (and there may well be regional variations), this is consistent with the limited growth in wages (which should surge upwards in a skills shortage.

Rick Mercer has a nice piece about the skill shortage and the federal government's response.

-- Bob Barnetson