Albertan labour group says Conservative leader Jason Kenney's proposed “Open for Business Act” is a plan to suppress wages and weaken worker rights in an energy industry that is driving down investment and job creation.

The Alberta Federation of Labour has issued a broadside against Jason Kenney, leader of the United Conservative Party  in Alberta, claiming his proposed “Open for Business Act” should really be called the “I’m Delivering Anti-Worker Rules for My Rich Friends and Donors Act.”

Speaking at a convention of retail workers in Calgary last week, AFL president Gill McGowan said Alberta needs strong action from government to support the economy and help create good jobs for Albertans. But he claimed UCP Kenney’s proposed approach would make things worse, not better.

“If there was ever any doubt about whose side Jason Kenney is really on, it has been removed,” said McGowan.

“What Kenney released today wasn’t a blueprint for the economy; it was a wish list for employers who want to keep wages low and workers subservient to employers, both in the workplace and in the political arena. In short, it’s about re-establishing the dominance of the rich, entitled fat cats who think they own this province and who still can’t believe or accept that Albertans showed them the door in 2015.”

McGowan said the real problem facing Alberta today is that the global oil and gas economy is in the midst of a profound transformation.

The problem starts with the fracking boom in the United States which has lowered global oil prices and turned Alberta's biggest customer into its biggest competitor. It continues with the massive wave of automation that is allowing companies to produce more oil and gas with fewer workers; and it culminates in the move away from fossil fuels that is picking up steam around the world.

“Kenney tries to blame everything on [Alberta Premier and leader of the ruling Alberta New Democratic Party] Rachel Notley. But the truth is that the unfolding energy transformation has driven down investment and job creation in all oil-producing jurisdictions around the world. When Kenney argues the contrary, he’s stretching the truth to the breaking point, as he so often does,” says McGowan.

In the face of these massive and unprecedented changes, McGowan said Alberta needs to diversify both within and beyond the oil and gas sector.

“We’re facing some of the biggest economic challenges in our province’s history. But instead of addressing those challenges, Jason Kenney wants to use the crisis as a pretext to suppress wages and weaken the employment and safety rights of workers, along with their political power. It’s a shameful example of misdirection and political opportunism,” said McGowan.

Kenney's proposed Open for Business Act would see the UCP roll back Alberta's $15-an-hour minimum wage to $13 an hour for those aged 17 or younger, as  the current $15 across-the-board wage is curtailing hiring, Kenney claims.

The changes are among a number of labour proposals announced by Kenney on March 15.  He says a UCP government would also make changes to union rules, a move that McGowan called an American-style attack on wages and unions that will shrink Alberta’s economy when it is already struggling.

“Kenney’s fixation on weakening unions and helping employers keep wages low is a tired right-wing strategy that even traditionally conservative organizations like the OECD, World Bank and Citibank are starting to oppose. Consumer spending drives 60 percent of our economy, so wage suppression strategies like the ones championed by Kenney are the opposite of helpful when it comes to supporting economic growth and job creation.

“Make no mistake,” said McGowan, “the plan that Kenney outlined isn’t about strengthening the economy: it’s about strengthening the hand of the wealthy fat cats who he serves. It’s also a misguided plan, that would kick our workers they’re already down. It’s a plan that working Albertans should soundly reject on election day.”

Defending his proposal, Kenney said: “A UCP government will end the NDP’s ideological attacks on job creators, and bring balance back to the relationships between workers and employers. The jobs crisis in this province is not going to solve itself. It will action to get Alberta back to work, and that’s what the Open for Business Act is all about.”

Alberta’s provincial election will be held in either April or May. By law, the election must be held by the end of May.