December 15, 2016
Bedrock Proposal to Take Control of
Stelco Steelworkers and Retirees
Face Morton's Fork
Steelworkers rally for pensions, November 25, 2016.
Bedrock Proposal to Take Control of Stelco
Stelco Steelworkers and Retirees Face Morton's Fork
Stelco steelworkers have been handed an unwelcome
dilemma: say yes to Bedrock, U.S. Steel and the Ontario
government's deal to bring Stelco out of the Companies' Creditors
Arrangement Act (CCAA) and consequently face the uncertainty of
smoke and mirrors and negation of their rights; or, say no to
deal and face what Shakespeare would call "the slings and arrows of
outrageous fortune" piled on them from all quarters.
The entire establishment media and vested interests of
financial oligarchy and their allies are howling for steelworkers to
accept the deal or else. What could possibly be wrong with accepting a
deal that the Ontario Finance Minister Charles Sousa says saves jobs,
protects pensions, supports economic development and ensures
protection. What more could you people possibly want, scream the mass
To say steelworkers have heard it all before would be
understatement but that does not make the dilemma any more palatable.
The reality of Morton's Fork is the royal prerogative held
today by the financial oligarchy in power.
The royal prerogative denies
steelworkers their right to be and tramples on what is theirs by right.
The CCAA fix was in from the
beginning and everyone knows it. U.S.
Steel will now scurry back to its palace somewhere along the Allegheny
River knowing its partners in Bedrock have saved its bacon and will not
be held to account for their crimes in Canada. Hurray, they cry! We
don't have to pay back the $150 million Ontario
loan; we don't have any creditors suing us for losses; we don't have
the Canadian government demanding restitution for all the broken
promises made under the Investment Canada Act;
all the pension, post-employment benefits and environmental problems
around our neck have disappeared with this deal and those gullible
are even giving us $126 million to send us on our merry way to
trouble somewhere else in the world. And you dear brother U.S.
oligarchs in Bedrock and fine friends in the Ontario government have
concocted a deal of tens of thousands of words of lawyer-speak to
guarantee that we will not have to face retribution and loss even
though more than a few Canadians will complain that the deal backed by
the state has guaranteed the robber barons an "outrageous fortune" and
not "slings and arrows."
Mr. Sousa has graciously wiped clean U.S. Steel's debt
province of $150 million. Gone are the angry words that USS has
on its promises and written agreements sworn in the media and Investment
on employment, production and making the pension plans whole. To
assist U.S. Steel's U.S. cousins at
Bedrock to shape a new Stelco as a takeover target for a quick score in
a few years, Mr. Sousa is providing "financial support of up
million in fully secured loans and various forms of regulatory relief
and a release of certain legacy environmental liabilities." My yes,
what good are environmental or any regulations for that matter, if
the financial oligarchy cannot release themselves from them.
Sousa also revelled in the
prospect of Stelco retirees governing a
land trust of polluted lands and putting them in shape for
redevelopment. Every steelworker's dream is to retire into the bliss of
managing a government controlled polluted land trust. Well sirs, Mr.
Sousa may mumble, we cannot give you land without expecting something
return. The province doesn't want to see you spending your golden years
without anything to do and simply having defined-benefits fall into
your pockets until you die. We don't recognize the lifetime deal for
pensions in exchange for your capacity to work. Once you stop working,
what good are you to the oligarchs? Go fend for yourself!
And you youngsters at Stelco still working or just
even worry about retirement because defined-benefits and even
retirement are things of the past. This deal says that only "benefits
for service accrued prior to the transaction" are entitled to claims on
the polluted lands. "Pension coverage for future service would be
separate agreements," which of course means that we are back prior to
the strike of 1946 when pensions, especially defined-benefit
were a dream of the working class to fight for and win after we had
destroyed the hated oligarchs' concept of "fend for yourself" in the
great war against fascism.
The government makes the deal's intention clear to
sever the new
Stelco from its earlier social obligations and promises declaring:
"While the new company is committed to making contributions to the
pension plans, it is not obligated to fund any deficit in the pension
plans for service accrued prior to completion of the restructuring
Mr. Sousa, the pension plans with an almost $900
million deficit at
last count are precisely "for service accrued prior to completion of
the restructuring transaction." You are reneging on the deal
steelworkers and other employees made with the financial oligarchy of
the old Stelco for the sale of their capacity to work. The deal was for
certain wages, defined pension benefits and Other Post-Employment
Benefits (OPEBs) until death, guaranteed by Stelco steel production or
government revenue. As for new
hires and "service" after "completion of the restructuring
transaction," you have effectively destroyed their pension dreams and
devalued their capacity to work. For steelworkers its
over again" from before 1946 and even back before the victorious
The lawyer-speak negating
OPEBs and pensions is a provocative
attack on workers' dignity and a betrayal of a solemn agreement for
pensions in exchange for a lifetime of work. The benefits "would be
administered through a new trust or corporate entity" with value coming
from "a land trust. These lands would be sold, leased or developed,
with proceeds going to fund the pension plans and the OPEBs entity."
Sousa hopes to turn retirees into a particular form of
estate hustlers and land speculators. "Ontario would provide a fully
secured loan of $10 million to the land trust to support the
operations. The province would also provide a loan of up to $66
million, fully secured, to the OPEBs entity to ensure there is
sufficient funding available to fund the OPEBs while the land is
developed and the new company is established. Both loans would be fully
secured against the land and other assets."
How magnanimous of you Mr. Sousa. You have let the U.S.
Bedrock oligarchs off the hook for their obligations to the pensions
and OPEBs through the smoke and mirrors of a land trust of polluted
lands providing "fully secured loans" to send the trust on its merry
way. Interesting that the provincial loans to the polluted land trust
are "fully secured" when you have thrown out the window the $150
million loan owed to the province by U.S. Steel. Not only have you
disappeared that loan but also have no shame in announcing that the
"[Ontario] Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change (MOECC) in
connection with environmental conditions on the land would
provide [to the new Stelco] a release of certain legacy environmental
liabilities associated with the Stelco lands."
The over three hundred pages of lawyer-speak make it
unintelligible to Canadians who speak whatever language they are
comfortable speaking, which most certainly is not lawyer-speak. This
dog's breakfast of a deal starts and ends without any recognition of
the rights of steelworkers, salaried employees, the steel communities
Canadian economy. Without recognition of the rights of Canadians as the
premise what deal can anyone expect except one to pay the rich and
serve the narrow private interests of the ruling oligarchs. No one from
the financial oligarchy is held to account for Stelco (and Essar Steel
Algoma) being in CCAA in the first place. Apparently, CCAA
just fell out of the sky without any connection with U.S. Steel and its
destructive practice in Canada or the long-festering problems in the
steel sector, which steelworkers have consistently exposed and
presented positive alternatives to wrecking, pay-the-rich schemes and
This deal solves no problem confronting the steel
sector in Canada.
It does not even recognize that economic problems exist. It turns the
work-time of steelworkers and their production of steel value into
"anti-value," into a "cost of production" that the poor oligarchs do
not want to bear. Mr. Sousa sir, do you even want a Canada with its own
stable prosperous economy and steel sector? You are finance minister
but do not appear interested in building a self-reliant diverse
Canadian economy and steel sector capable of pricing its production,
meeting the apparent demand of Canadians for products and engaging in
trade for mutual benefit with other collectives of peoples in the world
spirit of cooperation and friendship. Do you seriously believe that
some oligarchs from New York have our or anyone's well-being at heart
and will sacrifice their time, effort and social wealth on our behalf?
That is not their nature. We don't need them. We are quite capable of
producing and distributing steel. We have been doing it for over a
hundred years. We have the expertise, the human factor, the mills and
raw material. Show them the door Mr. Sousa if you have any backbone and
are truly Canadian and one with us.
This deal has no legitimacy
because it does not have a legitimate
premise. The deal severs the pension and benefit rights of workers from
the production of value at Stelco and from government revenue. It casts
steelworkers adrift to suffer the "slings and arrows" of the vagaries
of a land trust that produces nothing.
Humans have faced variations of Morton's Fork
in the past
and have overcome the dilemma with a new direction. That is the task
facing the working class. The ruling oligarchs are exhausted; they have
no solutions; all they do is trample on the rights of the working class
and deny them what is theirs by right. Another direction is
possible. The organized working class must bring that new direction
into being. It can be done!
1. Morton's Fork
is an argument used by the English
prelate John Morton (c.1420-1500), as Chancellor in demanding gifts for
the royal treasury. If a man lived well he was obviously rich and could
contribute a portion of his wealth to the King, and if he lived
frugally then he must have savings and could contribute a
portion of his savings to the King (The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase
Defend the Dignity of Unemployed Workers
Calls Intensify to Repeal Harper's Changes
to Employment Insurance
Organizations defending the unemployed, members of the
and Solidarity Movement of the Unemployed (MASSE), together with unions
are demanding the complete repeal of the Harper government's
anti-social reform of the Employment Insurance system. The Trudeau
government promised to
abolish the entire reform but among other things it left the
Social Security Tribunal intact. The Harper government created this
institution to make it more and more difficult for unemployed workers
to challenge unfavourable decisions of the Employment Insurance
Commission and to discourage them from appealing.
The Trudeau government is
playing tricks with halfway measures. For
example, it has changed the arbitrary criteria dividing the unemployed
into categories as a step towards introduction of labour mobility as a
key criterion for eligibility for EI. This has long been a demand of
Harper's Social Security Tribunal has been left in
place, which replaced the Boards of Referees and the Umpire in the
processing of appeals by unemployed workers. The Boards of Referees
government-employer-worker boards based in the communities where the
unemployed workers lived. Decisions of the Boards of Referees could be
an Umpire. The Trudeau Cabinet appoints members of the Social Security
Tribunal who are given complete power to hear appeals. An individual
member of the tribunal entrusted with the case is the sole
decision-maker. Those Cabinet appointees do not have to hold a hearing
in the presence of the unemployed worker who is appealing or even live
in the same region.
In a document published last October, MASSE describes
functioning of the Tribunal in detail, including the impact of its
decisions on the lives of the unemployed with regard to their right to
present their case and to have access to due process and their right to
Under the Harper anti-social reform, the only recourse
unemployed who disagree with a decision on their case is to ask the
Employment Insurance Commission for an administrative review. Research
reveals that out of 50,388 administrative reviews
about 45 per cent cancelled or modified the initial
unfavourable decisions taken by the EI Service Canada agents regarding
applications for EI. According to MASSE, this shows the enormous
pressure on Service Canada agents to reject applications from the
unemployed on their initial application so as to remove them from the
program and force them into a lengthy review.
If the administrative review rejects the appeal, as
in 55 per cent
of the cases, the unemployed may lodge a further appeal with the
General Division of the Social Security Tribunal. This appeal can be
refused by a summary rejection without the unemployed even being heard.
MASSE reports that the number of unemployed who appeal a
summary rejection is minimal as it appears unlikely to workers that
such an appeal would succeed.
The Appeal Division of the Tribunal received
only 427 appeals of
decisions taken at the General Division in 2014-15. Twenty-eight
appeals were summarily rejected. By comparison in 2012-13, appeals
the Umpire in the former system totalled 1621. MASSE explains that
of the 74 per cent fall in
appeals under the Harper reforms results from the lengthy and
documented written application to the Appeal Division of the Tribunal.
This discourages many unemployed from appealing unless they are
represented by a defence organization.
Another discouraging feature of the new appeal process
inordinate length of time it takes to process the cases. According to
the MASSE study, the processing of a file in the general division
takes 262 days on average and 395 days on average at the
During this time, unemployed
not receive benefits and often have no income. Defence organizations
report cases where the unemployed become homeless while awaiting their
appeal. In other cases, the unemployed may earn an income during the
appeal period by taking a job at a much lower wage than
they were receiving before losing their job. The inevitable consequence
of all this is that a large number of unemployed workers abandon their
appeals. The absurdity, in addition to the inhumanity of the situation,
is that a decision favourable to the unemployed will often be merely
symbolic because the worker will have found an inferior job to
survive, a job that the worker cannot leave without becoming ineligible
for benefits, while others have suffered terrible deprivation and
The unemployed are also discouraged from appealing by
inhumanity of the appeal process during which they will often not be
heard in person by the Tribunal member in charge of their case.
In 2014-2015, 55.5 per cent of the decisions at the appeal
were made without the unemployed being entitled to a
face-to-face hearing to explain their case. Hearings are mainly
conducted by telephone or videoconference.
In 2014-2015, 68.5 per cent of the hearings
at the general division
were done by telephone, 16.4 per cent in person and 6.4 per
videoconference. In addition, the successive anti-social reforms of the
EI regime have created a climate of fear. The Harper government
criminalized workers applying for EI or
France Simard, the
coordinator of Mouvement Action Chômage Lac-St-Jean in
Quebec told Workers' Forum, "A climate of fear has been
created amongst the unemployed workers by
the Harper reform as unemployed workers fear to speak to a camera
because they do not want to be on the radar of the government and that
MASSE reports that this deliberate attack is meant to
unemployed out of the programme and by all reports this has succeeded
as fewer than 40 per cent of unemployed workers are currently even
eligible for EI.
MASSE reiterates its demand for the immediate repeal of
Security Tribunal and at least a return to the Boards of Referees and
Umpires. In general, the organizations of the unemployed want an
atmosphere where unemployed workers are allowed to live in dignity and
not be criminalized. Such an atmosphere would include, among
other things, an eligibility threshold of 350 hours or 13
benefit rate of at least 70 per cent based on the best 12
weeks of the
wage prior to the worker losing a job, and a minimum floor of 35
Workers' Forum congratulates the organizations
unemployed for their efforts to defend the unemployed who are often
amongst the most vulnerable workers. The working class is not in
control of the economy and cannot in any way be held responsible for
unemployment, which is a cancer of the capitalist system. To deny
workers a livelihood for being unemployed is a serious indictment of
the present direction of the economy and system of governance and rule
by the financial oligarchy. People have rights by virtue of being human
and no circumstance, including unemployment, can negate their rights.
Ontario Injured Workers' Rally
Demands for Compensation System
to Be Investigated
The Ontario Network of Injured Workers' Groups (ONIWG)
its 25th Annual Christmas rally on December 12 to demand an
end to the
violation of the rights of all workers to support and just compensation
when they are injured or made ill at work. This year's rally was held
outside the Toronto headquarters of the
Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB). In a break with past
the Minister of Labour was not invited to speak.
The annual rally is
organized on a Christmas theme to contrast the
spirit of good cheer which is supposed to characterize the holiday
season with the poverty and misery faced by injured workers and their
families throughout the year due to the refusal of the government and
employers to provide just compensation. The austerity agenda being
implemented by the Wynne government in Ontario, continues to exacerbate
Injured workers came from Niagara, Hamilton, Barrie,
and as far
away as Ottawa, to participate in the action. They joined activists
ONIWG member groups in Toronto; Injured Workers Action for Justice,
Women of Inspiration, Bright Lights, the Chinese Injured Workers Group,
and Injured Workers Consultants. Other workers, including
a large contingent from the Toronto area council of the United
Steelworkers, joined in.
The Justice Singers energized everyone with their
performance of "Kathleen Wynne's Crocodile Tears" and a new song.
In his introductory remarks
to the rally Willy Noiles, the newly
elected President of ONIWG, outlined the Workplace Safety and Insurance
Board's unjust denial of claims of injured workers. He stated that "We
are delivering a letter today to the Ontario Ombudsman's office to
demand that they investigate what is going on with the WSIB: to
find out why the WSIB is not listening to our doctors; why injured
workers are being forced back to work while they are still not
recovered; why the WSIB is cutting off injured workers and denying them
their rights while handing millions over to the employers; why the WSIB
and the government are not upholding the law."
Noiles pointed out that the situation needs to be ended
almost one third of all injured workers are in workplaces not covered
by the compensation system. If WSIB wants to solve its mythical
"unfunded liability," it could do so by making the compensation
system universal and collecting money outstanding from employers.
Merv King from United Steelworkers, Terri Aversa from
Public Sector Employees Union, Vinay Sharma for Unifor
Summers for the Ontario Nurses Association brought messages of
solidarity from their unions to the rally. They spoke to the situations
in their workplaces and emphasized that the fight of injured workers
just and belonged to all workers.
L to R: Speakers from United Steelworkers, OPSEU, Unifor and ONA.
Chris Ramsaroop of Justice 4 Migrant Workers closed
out the rally
highlighting the plight faced by migrant workers when they are injured.
He cited a recent case of a migrant worker who was injured and rather
than receiving support and assistance the owner of the farm called the
OPP who escorted the worker to the airport to be
deported. "We are calling for an end to the deportations. Migrant
have a right to proper health care and support when they are injured,"
Delivering the letter to the Ombudsman's office -- an official was sent
down to receive it.
Christmas picket outside WSIB office in Windsor, December 12, 2016.
Following the rally everyone boarded a school bus to the
Ombudsman's office to deliver a letter calling on him to investigate
the WSIB. The letter read in part:
"... In the past year, at least two systemic complaints
submitted to you, asking for you to undertake investigations into the
Board's unfair practices and policies. To date, both of these
complaints have gone unanswered.
"The first one, entitled Prescription Overruled, gets at
the heart of
how injured workers -- particularly those with more serious and complex
injuries -- are being mistreated. When our doctors are systematically
ignored, then the WSIB can justify any rejection or denial. If this is
allowed to continue with impunity, then the integrity of the system
itself should be called into question.
"We know that dozens of injured workers contacted your
share their stories about how their doctors were ignored. You may not
be aware that it is very difficult for many injured workers to tell
their stories to
others, as it is often painful for them to share what they have gone
through. In this instance we did not share our stories with you as a
mere formality, or
so that they
could be filed away on a shelf. We shared our stories because they are
direct evidence of a systemic problem that needs immediate action. We
shared our stories because we need change, and we are calling on you to
help make that change happen.
Thunder Bay picket demands inquiry into WSIB, December 12, 2016. (Injured Workers Online)
"The same question goes for the second complaint, about
mental stress in the workplace. The legislation and policy around
chronic mental stress has been found to be contrary to the Charter of
Rights & Freedoms. This means the government and WSIB are
our Charter rights. And yet nobody is doing anything about it.
"These are not trivial matters. People's lives and
at stake. Many injured workers have lost everything -- family, friends,
income, physical and mental health -- because of the systemic problems
we have brought to your office.
"We are aware of your mandate as the provincial
watchdog to investigate systemic issues that result in the mistreatment
of Ontarians, and we believe strongly in
this mandate. We need you to step in and stand up for those of us who
are being abused by a callous
system. We need you to launch an investigation into these matters...."
Workplace Injuries Among Healthcare Workers
Below are extracts
from the presentation made by Andy Summers, a
hospital emergency room nurse and Toronto area Vice-President of the
Ontario Nurses Association, to the ONIWG Christmas rally on
I'm here today speaking out on behalf of our injured
Nurses (RNs) and allied health professionals -- injured while providing
care to our patients.
I can tell you nurses are suffering injuries at a
rate. In hospitals alone in 2015, 754 lost time injury claims
allowed for Registered Nurses. There were 901 allowed lost-time
claims in total for 2015 for RNs across the health sector.
When we look at lost-time injuries by sector, the
sector in 2015 has higher claims than manufacturing, construction
mining sectors for exposures, falls, soft-tissue injuries and workplace
Lost-time injuries as a result of workplace violence in
care sector are rising at an alarming rate -- rising 6.4 per cent
in 2014 and by 11 per cent in 2015. This is unacceptable
must be done to stop violent incidents that nurses are experiencing in
I can tell you as well that the ONA has written to the
Labour calling for amendments to subsections 13 (4) and (5) of the
WSIB's [Workplace Safety and Insurance Board] traumatic mental stress
policy as a result of WSIAT [Workplace Safety and Insurance Appeals
Tribunal] rulings that these sections are unconstitutional
and discriminatory for workers suffering mental stress injuries.
I find it shameful that the government has not acted
ONA's Charter Case win in April 2014. It is well past time for
government to take action for workers suffering mental stress injuries.
I can also tell you that the ONA is deeply disappointed
government excluded nurses from the PTSD [post-traumatic stress
disorder] presumption that now applies to all other first responders.
We won't rest until we see coverage for nurses as well.
We've been fighting for one nurse working in a dialysis
unit of a
very large hospital who was repeatedly exposed to Glutaraldehyde, a
toxic chemical used to disinfect and clean blood from the dialysis
machine. She developed numerous adverse health effects from the
exposure and became very ill and could never return to work. A
diagnosed her with PTSD and indicated she thought she was also going to
die from this exposure. Despite the diagnosis of PTSD, WSIB denied her
claim. It wasn't until the ONA appealed her case that it was finally
heard at the Tribunal after almost 10 years and subsequently won.
ONA won't sit by while this government's legislation
continue to discriminate against nurses facing mental stress injuries.
The WSIB's new return to work philosophy for injured
equally problematic. WSIB now forces workers to recover at work, which
will result in more denials as workers are pushed back to work
prematurely, putting them at risk of harm.
It's time to take a firm stand! Time to make some noise
so the government hears us!
Opposition to Saskatchewan Government's
Workers Condemn Austerity Agenda
Since the Saskatchewan Party led by Brad Wall won a
majority in the
April 2016 provincial election, threats to public services and the
workers who deliver them have escalated. Besides the ongoing
privatization of liquor stores there has been wide speculation about
the privatization of SaskTel, a Crown corporation. In recent years the
government has used Private-Public Partnerships to finance nine
schools, a Regina bypass and the North Battleford Hospital currently
In a November 22 news
release, the government
"restraint measures," which it claims are necessary to deal with an
increasing deficit. These measures include a public sector hiring
freeze and $217 million of "in-year restraint measures and savings
undertaken across government, including Crown corporations." In
addition, the news release states, "The government is also committed to
holding the line on labour costs across all sectors of the public
The Canadian Union of Public Employees Saskatchewan
statement on November 23, called "Hands Off Public Services." Tom
Graham, President of CUPE Saskatchewan is quoted as saying, "Public
sector workers did not cause this deficit. Bad government decisions
caused this deficit. And now the quality of the public services
that Saskatchewan families depend on is at risk."
Public services, including health care and education,
underfunded in spite of election promises of increased funding. In
June, following the release of the budget and government plans to cut
public services to deal with the deficit, Saskatchewan Federation of
Labour President Larry Hubich said, "The Saskatchewan Party is always
looking for expensive experiments in healthcare. They spent millions to
find only a few dollars of 'efficiencies' -- taxpayers were left
the bag. Now they have another money-saving scheme." Hubich went on to
say, "We already know the real solution to improving healthcare --
invest in a publicly-funded and delivered system emphasizing
frontline healthcare staff, and stamp out any signs of costly
Workers and communities throughout the province are
their resistance to attacks on their rights and the wrecking of public
services through cutbacks and privatization.
Manitoba Government's Austerity Agenda
No to Attacks on Public Sector Workers
and Public Services!
The Pallister Conservative government in Manitoba is
an all-out attack on public services and public sector workers under
the guise of responding to "realities of Manitoba's challenging
economic climate including the province's large budgetary deficit."
The organized collective
resistance of the working class to attacks
on its rights and the rights of all is a bulwark against the
neo-liberal anti-social offensive. The right to social programs and
public services and the rights of workers who provide the services are
interdependent. For example, workers who provide care and services in
and seniors' care need adequate staff and working conditions which
allow them to provide patients or residents with the care they need and
which is theirs by right.
Attacks on public sector workers are aimed at
collective organized resistance of the working class and the first line
of defence of public services and programs. Organized collective
resistance by public sector workers to attacks on their rights is based
on defending rights and in opposition to the wrecking of public
Premier Pallister's latest salvo shows the underhanded
work to attack the rights of health care workers and the rights of all.
He took the occasion of his first "State of the Province" address on
December 8 -- which he delivered at an event hosted by the
Chamber of Commerce -- to announce that he thinks
the 169 union bargaining units in Manitoba's health sector are far
Under the hoax that he would like to see the process
to make it "more efficient for both government and labour," Pallister
referred to "union bosses" in a thinly-veiled attempt to incite workers
against their leadership. He claimed that his aim in reducing the
number of bargaining units would be to "save time and money for both
sides" and said, "I need our union bosses to understand that this is a
positive endeavour that will help their own people." When he was asked
what he would do if the unions do not cooperate, the premier said,
"That's hypothetical" and added, "I don't see that happening." People
are asking whether this is intended to be a threat.
The premier is attempting to destroy public opinion in
public sector workers. This is how the set-up takes place. First, the
workers and their unions are blind-sided by a "proposal" made at a
Chamber of Commerce event, with the Premier stating that he has already
discussed this "informally" with the unions. The message here is that
he does not recognize the right of workers to decide how to organize
The unions pointed out that,
in fact, no such discussions have
taken place between the government and the unions representing health
care workers and reminded the premier that he needs to be talking to
the unions if he has proposals that concern the rights of workers. But
the Premier has already started working to introduce the idea that his
proposal is great for "both sides" and to imply that if the "union
bosses" do not agree, this means they are being obstructive or
uncooperative or generally not acting in the best interests of their
members as defined by the premier.
To show how reasonable he is, Pallister gave as an
there are, he says, 47 different bereavement-leave provisions in
health-care collective agreements. "Your uncle passes on, and you want
to go to the funeral, but your wife can't go. She's under a different
bereavement provision. Surely, we can work together to make these
systems simpler and more effective to benefit the people who work on
our front lines."
That sounds reasonable, but what is the reality?
Workers know from
experience how these things go -- that the government will demand that
the least favourable conditions for the workers become the standard for
each clause of a unified collective agreement.
Is the intent of the Premier to use the legislature to
workers what union they will belong to? Is it the intent of the
government to toss out collective agreements that have been negotiated
and impose contract language? It certainly looks that way.
Workers and their collectives have lots of experience
methods of replacing negotiations and good-faith bargaining with
dictate. Public sector workers are the front line defence of public
services and programs and their greatest champions and this reality
must be recognized. Any attack on the right of health care and seniors'
workers to wages, working conditions and pensions commensurate with
their work and contribution to society and the added-value they produce
is an attack on the rights of all. The response of the workers to these
attacks is to demand that governments carry out their responsibilities
towards the people and society, to defend the rights of workers
and the rights of all, and to give those rights a guarantee in law.
Throne Speech Outlines Attack on Workers' Rights
The Conservative government of Brian Pallister
signalled in the
November 21 throne speech its intent to impose an "austerity"
This includes attacks on the wages and working conditions of public
sector workers and the removal of obstacles to privatization including
those in the form of Public-Private Partnerships.
With regard to
privatization, the throne speech says,
government will also eliminate the current legislation governing
private public partnerships, which in its current form actually
discourages the use of such innovative funding partnerships in
rebuilding Manitoba's infrastructure."
According to the throne speech, "Manitoba's government
is setting a
new course, one that will focus on longterm, sustainable measures to
fix our finances, repair the services relied upon by our citizens,
spark the rebuilding of our economy and put our province back on a
responsible fiscal track."
The government stated that "savings" had already
started "at the
top, with a reduction in the size of our provincial cabinet." The
government then declared that Crown corporations and regional health
authorities will be expected to reduce administrative and senior
management costs saying, "Legislation will be introduced, following
and dialogue, to ensure that the province's public sector costs do not
exceed Manitobans' ability to sustain the services they receive in
These announcements come after weeks of speculation
freezes and the Premier's promise of a "pause." This means not just
cuts to services but government dictates on wages and working
conditions for public sector workers. The day before the throne speech,
Premier Pallister was quoted in a report from the Manitoba Teachers'
Society saying, "The average wage increases have been increases of two
and a half times the rate of inflation for the last number of years. So
what we are talking about in terms of impact on folks that work with us
is that we're asking for a pause and are going to be asking for a pause
in increases so we can get our financial house in order."
Representatives of the largest public sector unions
were quick to
respond. Michelle Gawronsky, President of the Manitoba Government and
General Employees' Union (MGEU/NUPGE) said, "We were looking for a
clear sign that this government was going to follow through on its
commitment to protect and invest in the public services
Manitobans count on. Instead, the Premier is now proposing to not only
strip working Manitobans of their bargaining rights, but is also
threatening the very services that he clearly and publicly promised to
CUPE Manitoba in a statement said, "The Throne Speech
reducing red tape, but does not differentiate unneeded bureaucracy from
important programs and protections. It plans to remove The
Public-Private Partnerships Transparency and Accountability Act, a law
that protects the public interest by requiring thorough study and basic
public consultation and reporting on projects that plan to hand over
public services to for-profit interests."
Pallister Government's Anti-Labour Legislation
New anti-labour legislation came into effect in
November 10, which makes it more difficult for workers to form
The legislation called Bill 7, The Labour Relations Amendment
Act, has been widely condemned since it was introduced shortly
after the election that brought the Pallister Conservatives
The Manitoba Federation of Labour issued a statement
explaining and denouncing Bill 7, which was published in the Winnipeg
on June 16. An excerpt reads:
"Fewer unionized workplaces will mean fewer working
fair wages and benefits, fewer champions for workplace health and
safety and fewer voices speaking up for workers.
"Bill 7 would end a long-standing practice of
in which at least 65 per cent of employees indicate their desire
join a union -- by signing a union card -- to apply for fast-track
"This practice is in place in several jurisdictions
country and is designed to prevent employers from interfering in the
process through coercion or intimidation.
"In addition, there is always an independent review by
Labour Board to ensure union cards are valid and that the law has been
"When at least 65 per cent of workers sign cards,
will is clear -- they support joining a union. In fact, Manitoba's
threshold is the highest of all jurisdictions with this type of
fast-track certification. Ottawa is in the process of reversing changes
brought in by former Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and
restoring provision for a simple majority of 50 per cent plus one,
employees in federally regulated workplaces.
"Why make these changes? What's motivating the
"A recent federal report may shed some light. Comparing
jurisdictions across the country, the former federal department of
Human Resources and Skill Development (now called Employment and Social
Development Canada) concluded that where governments don't allow for
fast-track certification by way of majority card signup, unionization
rates are lower.
"But Bill 7 goes even further to undermine working
people -- it
explicitly removes protections against intimidation and harassment.
Bill 7 repeals the current requirement for the Manitoba Labour
ensure that 'employees were not subject to intimidation, fraud,
coercion or threat and that their wishes for union representation
were expressed freely'."
From the time the legislation was introduced, organized
have opposed the bill. In October, union members from many sectors,
members of the United Food and Commercial Workers, Steelworkers,
UNIFOR, Manitoba Building Trades, Manitoba Government and General
Employees' Union, the Winnipeg Labour Council and others
packed a legislative committee hearing to express their opposition to
With this issue, Workers' Forum will take a
break over the holidays and resume publication in the New Year.
During the break, please continue to support our
important work to
smash the silence on the living and working conditions of the workers
countrywide and share your experiences and views with others fighting
for the dignity of labour and the affirmation of the rights of all.
We also urge you to support us financially to make the
work of the
Workers' Centre of CPC(M-L), which includes the publication of Workers'
Forum, possible.* Thank you for your all-sided support in the past
We wish you all the best for the holidays and success
in your work in the New Year.
- Workers' Forum Editorial and Technical Staff
* To donate by mail, send cheque or money order
payable to: MLPC
Send to: P.O. Box 666, Postal Station C, Montreal, Quebec. H2L 4L5
Please include full name and address for contributions over $20, as the
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