Edmonton Mac's killings show need for better worker protection, labour leaders say

Labour leaders in Alberta are calling for stricter laws following the fatal shootings of two convenience store clerks Friday.

'Gold standard' safety legislation adopted in B.C. a decade ago, AFL says

Police tape cordon off a south Edmonton Mac's convenience store after a clerk was fatally shot during an armed robbery Friday. (CBC)

Labour leaders in Alberta are calling for stricter laws following the fatal shootings of two convenience store clerks Friday.

"The two murders in Edmonton ... are a very grim reminder of just how dangerous it is for retail workers in places like gas stations and convenience stores especially when they're working overnight," said Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.

"There's no way we can guarantee the safety of workers 100 per cent, but when we know there's a group of workers that are particularly at high risk as is the case of people working overnight ... it is incumbent on the government to do more to mediate the risk," he said.

"That the  Alberta government has failed to do that is tragic, especially as the 'gold standard' safety legislation was implemented next door in B.C. a decade ago."  

In B.C. retail workers are not permitted to work alone at night. 

"The evidence clearly show that if there's more than one worker at a workplace these robberies tend not to happen," McGowan said. 

"If the employer insists on having only one staff member on duty, that staff member has to work in a locked area behind a secure barrier."

McGowan's concerns are echoed by Paul Phillips, an occupational health and safety instructor at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology, or NAIT.

"That's something that we're going to have to look at in the future," he said. "After certain hours there is a physical barrier between workers and customers or clients."

The arguments against such measures usually focus on the added cost to employers providing the extra protection, but McGowan said the cost is worth it.

"Confronted with these horrible tragedies like we had here in Edmonton last night, the cost to the employer or the inconvenience to customers has to take second place to the legitimate safety concerns of the workers."

The B.C. legislation has resulted in a dramatic decline in violence against people working in gas stations and convenience stores, he said.

"The number of fatalities has dropped precipitously and you compare that to other provinces like Alberta where we don't have these kind of rules and the death toll just keeps mounting."

Two men, aged 24 and 26, and a 13-year-old boy were arrested after two Mac's Convenience Stores employees were killed in a pair of armed robberies in south Edmonton early Friday morning.