Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Alberta Labour’s 2017/18 Annual Report

In June, Alberta released its departmental annual reports. You can find the Alberta Labour report here. Alberta Labour administers and enforces Alberta’s employment laws. Here are the highlights from 2017/18.

Employment Standards

Overall, performance declined over last year. According to the report, this is largely due to staff being redeployed to implement new workplace rules.

In 2017/18, Alberta recorded 4679 employment standards complaints alleging 1892 employers owe 4103 workers $19 million. Approximately $3.2 million in unpaid wages were recovered during that period (down from $4.6 million the previous year).

Nearly 1700 complaints were backlogged due to a lack of staff and only 41% of complaints were completed within 180 days (6 months), compared to 49% the previous year. Inspections were also down to 356, from 679 the previous year.

The good news is that Alberta reported it employed 75 employment standards officers, an increase of 23 since the New Democrats took office in 2015. An additional 38 staff (mostly officers) are expected to be hired this year. Further staffing increases are likely warranted.

Labour Relations

Overall, things appear to have improved over last year. The number of hearings is up (reflecting expanded powers and new rules). 

The number of certification applications is also up, an expected outcome with introduction of card-check certification. And the number of unfair labour practices rose 48%, likely due to greater certification activity, expansion of ALRB’s scope, and the introduction of more effective remedies.

The speed from application to first hearing has increased (likely due to new statutory requirements). There has also been a significant improvement in the speed of decisions.

Occupational Health and Safety

Overall, things are better than last year. Alberta’s ~140 OHS officers inspected 11,752 workplace inspections in 2017/18 as well as conducted over 5076 follow-up visits. This is a significant increase in inspections and a good sign.

Inspectors wrote almost 11,000 OHS compliance orders while prosecutors laid 26 charges for OHS violations in 2017/18. Again, both numbers are up and are good signs. That said, inspectors are still only visiting about 4% of employers annually so the risk of getting caught breaking the rules remains low and the consequences (mostly “fix it”) are modest.

Workplace Injury

Here, things seem to be a bit worse, with both the lost-time claim rate and the disabling injury rate climbing. These jumps may (at least, in part) reflect internal changes in the WCB as it attempts to change its culture of denial. They may also reflect an increase in economic activity in dangerous sectors. 


While rates allow year-over-year comparisons, they tend to obscure is the actual number of injuries. In 2017, the WCB accepted 29,047 lost-time claims. I wasn’t able (yet) to find data on disabling injuries for 2017 (45,000 is a good guess). I did find this infographic on fatalities: they appear to be climbing in 2018. It is important to acknowledge that WCB claims data tends to significantly under-represent the true level of injury.

Overall, Alberta Labour’s performance seems to be modestly improving. That said, additional staff will be necessary to reduce the level of wage theft and injury.

-- Bob Barnetson

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