December 21, 2017

To Affirm Their Rights, Workers Need the
Collective Power to Deprive

Employers and Their State Deprive Construction Workers of Their Rights


To Affirm Their Rights, Workers Need the Collective Power to Deprive
Employers and Their State Deprive Construction Workers of Their Rights
Quebec Construction Workers Fight for Healthy and Safe Conditions
- Interview, Simon Lévesque, Health and Safety Director, FTQ-Construction

Maritime Workers Take Action to Oppose Trudeau Government's Anti-National Preclearance Act
"We are Going to Have to Fight It Through the Regulations"
- Interview, Rob Ashton, President, International Longshore and
Warehouse Union, Canada

Health Care is a Right!
Ontario Paramedics Raise Concerns Over Changes to Ambulance Act
- Interview, Jason Fraser, Chair, Canadian Union of Public Employees Ontario Ambulance Committee

Readers' Note

To Affirm Their Rights, Workers Need the Collective Power to Deprive

Employers and Their State Deprive
Construction Workers of Their Rights

Construction workers are very vulnerable to abuse and denial of their rights. In addition to the general lack of control all workers face at their workplaces, construction employment is unstable as it finishes when a particular project is completed. Construction work, according to statistics and life experience itself, is a most dangerous occupation with frequent injuries, deaths and work-related illnesses.

In effect, the struggle of construction workers to humanize their job sites is constant and charged with the necessity to bring the human factor/social consciousness to the fore and put it in command. How is this accomplished when workers are in a subordinate position to their employers according to the prevailing relations of production based on the power of money, and the state regularly intervenes to criminalize the struggle of workers in defence of their rights? The answer lies in workers' collective power to deprive those who seek to deprive them of their rights of the power to do so.

Employers and the state argue that the construction project itself and its successful completion is most important and not the human factor. They argue that the human factor must subordinate its rights to the project and its completion, which requires curtailing the rights of construction workers and their social consciousness. The employers and their state argue that the work and the value workers create for both employers and construction workers requires subordinating all decision-making to the demands and anti-social consciousness of the employer to complete the work in as little time as possible and with the least investment in the well-being and security of the workers. The anti-social outlook of the employers and their state is irrational and desperate and not in conformity with the modern social conditions, where rights must be affirmed and cannot be denied, and the human factor/social consciousness must be in command at all times.

For employers and their state to achieve their goal to de-humanize the workplace and exercise absolute control in the manner of medieval lords, they resort to force and state-organized criminalizing of workers' conscience, speech and their collectives. They attempt to deprive workers of their right collectively to make and enforce decisions based on the concrete conditions of the job site to ensure a safe working environment and to meet the needs and claims of workers for what belongs to them by right, as the actual producers of the value the employers so crave.

This is the modern world where people have rights by virtue of being human. The rights of construction workers and all working people cannot be denied or restricted in any way. Through working people affirming their rights, transformations occur that humanize the natural and social environment including the workplace. Any social force such as employers and their state that deprive working people of their rights prove through their actions they are not fit to rule at the workplace or in government. The working class must develop and gain the collective power to deprive those who seek to deprive workers of their rights just as people collectively developed and gained the power to deprive the medieval lords of their power to deprive.

Through strengthening their collectives and affirming their rights through actions with analysis, construction workers together with all working people will humanize their workplaces and the entire political, social and natural environment. Through their collective strength, actions and modern outlook that puts the human factor/social consciousness in first place, they will develop and gain the power to deprive those social forces that seek to deprive the people of their rights of their power to deprive.

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Quebec Construction Workers Fight for
Healthy and Safe Conditions

Striking Quebec constructions workers march, May 24, 2017.

Quebec construction workers are stepping up their struggle to defend their rights, including the right to work in healthy and safe conditions. Construction workers make up 5 per cent of Quebec's workforce and suffer 25 per cent of officially recognized work-related deaths. A megasite like Hydro-Québec's La Romaine hydroelectric dam on the North Shore has seen four deaths since the start of the work in 2009. The workers blame the working methods used and especially the fact that their voice and expertise are not listened to when they point out dangers and the importance of prevention on construction sites. 

Workers' Forum recently spoke with Simon Lévesque, health and safety director for the Quebec Federation of Labour (FTQ-Construction), on the situation facing construction workers and what the union is doing to defend workers' rights.


Workers' Forum: What is the main work the union is currently doing to transform the situation with respect to health and safety on construction sites?

Simon Lévesque: The issue of prevention is our main work. In particular, the prevention representative appointed and trained by the workers is at the centre of our interventions.

When the Occupational Health and Safety Act was passed in 1979, legislators agreed that by 1985 the provisions of the Act would apply to all sectors. The construction sector is at the top of the list in the first priority group, according to the Act. We are the only sector of the economy that has special provisions in the Act because we work in the most dangerous sector. Yet all these provisions in the law about construction, that were to be enforced by 1985, have never been put into practice.

There has never been a politician with the courage to enforce the provisions we were entitled to, and primarily having our prevention representatives. This has been done for other priority groups but not us. This law has never been functional because we have not been granted what is in the law.

Since 2010, we have managed to get prevention representatives in some of the biggest construction sites. We got our first decision in 2010, from the Labour Standards, Pay Equity, and Workplace Health and Safety Board (CNESST) for the construction site building the extension to Highway 30, where we got our first prevention representative. Then we had a decision regarding the McGill University Health Centre, where we got five prevention representatives, one for each of the five trade unions in the construction sector. We asked for five because we did not want any conflict between the unions. We did not pursue the question of representativeness, of how many members each union has, etc. The five prevention representatives were in the same office, working together, demonstrating that it was possible.

This has paid off because on the other major construction sites we are now seeking prevention representatives, and we are presenting demands to the CNESST when large employers refuse to give them to us. When the employers on big sites refuse to allow prevention representatives we ask the Board to make a decision under section 221 of the Act. According to this article, on sites of over 500 workers, all the accident prevention mechanisms are determined by the CNESST. Wherever we have prevention representatives, some headway has been made in terms of health and safety. However, the biggest employers are using their political influence to put pressure on the CNESST, to block us from having prevention representatives. At the Romaine site, we had to exert a lot of pressure through the media, especially following the latest death in December 2016, which was the fourth death on this site, to obtain prevention representatives on a voluntary basis. Hydro-Québec has finally agreed and we've had prevention representatives on site for almost a year.

For prevention to work, there needs to be cooperation. Cooperation must be well integrated. All parties must participate. We must work together for a common goal. It must be said that where we have succeeded in getting prevention representatives cooperation has not always been good. Besides, we want to have prevention representatives everywhere, not just on the sites of over 500 workers. It is not only on large sites that fatal accidents happen. They happen on sites of all sizes.

We want to develop prevention representatives so that employers do not have a choice on whether to take the necessary measures to ensure that work is safe. We do not want to deal merely with issues related to personal protective equipment. We want to tackle the real issues, what hurts and kills our workers. We want to tackle the working methods, we have to make sure that the right working methods are used, the right tools, the right equipment. We must tackle the issue of health as well. Our workers deal with a number of contaminants, solvents, things that end up killing them in the long run. At present, there are just two occupational diseases that are recognized in construction; asbestosis and silica exposure.

The problem we have is that we are not being listened to. When our workers want to speak, they are often gotten rid of. Those who have spoken face all kinds of reprisals. The workers are told to shut up, that they do not have the expertise to deal with these things, that we have to leave that to the experts. At La Romaine, workers pointed out that the way they were being told to drill the rock was not consistent with their experience of doing this work safely. They were told that those matters belong to the geologists. Their experience and expertise were dismissed.

The prevention representative is important in construction because workers do not have job security. If they complain, if they call their unions, they are targeted. Even if they make an anonymous complaint to the CNESST it is possible to deduce from what sector the call is coming.

On the other hand, when the workers raise the issues through the prevention representatives, they are more protected. The representative is on-site full-time, dealing with workers' health and safety. They go through him. He is their voice. He defends their point of view. Workers' voices must be protected. Otherwise, in a situation where there is an absence of job security, employers can determine which workers are complaining and use reprisals.

In addition to our complaints to the CNESST, we make direct interventions on construction sites. If we believe that the community must take charge of its own affairs, then we must lead by example. Just recently, on a 15-story building, there were six floors without railings. In 2017, we still have to fight to say that railings are necessary! We are intervening in a vigorous way on the sites to get the employers to apply immediate corrective measures.

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Maritime Workers Take Action to Oppose Trudeau Government's
Anti-National Preclearance Act

"We are Going to Have to Fight It
Through the Regulations"

Maritime Workers at the port of Vancouver as well as ports throughout the country have been standing up to the Trudeau government's Bill C-23, An Act respecting the preclearance of persons and goods in Canada and the United States. This legislation expands "preclearance," a process for clearing customs of the destination country before leaving the country of origin, from select airports in Canada to land and water crossings. It permits preclearance of cargo in Canadian facilities by U.S. agents, and authorizes them to carry weapons and detain, search and use force against Canadians within those facilities.

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) fought the legislation as it moved through the House of Commons and the Senate. Now that it has received Royal Assent, it is continuing to fight and to inform Canadians about what this legislation means. Along with the BC Federation of Labour and the BC Civil Liberties Association, the ILWU organized a rally on December 16 at the cruise ship dock at Canada Place in Vancouver, on the last day of the cruise ship season. Every ILWU worker at Canada Place will be directly affected by Bill C-23 and maritime workers throughout the country will now have to undergo security screening by both the Canadian government and U.S. Homeland Security.

Unions and many other organizations have been active in opposing Bill C-23 as a violation of the rights of passengers and of workers and a violation of national sovereignty. The legislation hands over information about Canadians to a foreign government, allows a foreign government to determine if a Canadian worker can work or not and invites the police powers of a foreign government onto Canadian soil with impunity and immunity.

Workers' Forum interviewed Rob Ashton, President of the ILWU Canada after the December 16 rally.


Workers' Forum: Can you explain the purpose of the rally at Canada Place on December 16?

Rob Ashton: The rally was organized by my union, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, mainly by young workers, to bring awareness of what the Canadian government is doing with Bill C-23. Irene Lanzinger, the President of the BC Federation of Labour, and Josh Paterson from the BC Civil Liberties Association also spoke there. The rally was organized on very short notice at a time when people are busy with other things so we think it was quite successful.

Bill C-23 is legislation that was negotiated in secret between the Harper government and the Obama government in 2015 and was rammed through the House of Commons and the Senate faster than a bullet train. We did not succeed in getting it changed before it passed and received Royal Assent on December 12. Now it is at the regulation stage and we are going to have to fight it through the regulations.

It's important to know the history of the security clearance program. After 9/11 the Canadian government came out with the Marine Transportation Security Clearance program. The maritime unions, including the ILWU, pushed back because it was too intrusive and too overbearing. In order to work at Canada Place where the cruise ships dock in Vancouver, a maritime worker has to have security clearance, has to submit fingerprints and undergo a detailed background check. There are lots of problems with it but there is a grievance procedure written into it.

Under Bill C-23, after a worker gets that security clearance from the Canadian government, which means that they are cleared to work in locations like Canada Place, their name and birthdate and other information will be sent by the Canadian government to U.S. Homeland Security for screening. If U.S. Homeland Security makes a "derogatory comment" then the worker may lose his or her security clearance. We don't know what is meant by a "derogatory comment." We have asked government officials and no one can tell us. We know the Trump administration's attitude and actions towards Muslims, minorities and immigrants. We have a large number of South Asian workers and we need to protect all the workers from attacks on their rights.

Another concern we have is about the powers and the immunity given to American border guards in Canada. If an American border guard commits any crime in Canada he or she is deemed immune to any charges in Canada. The American border guards will have to travel back to the USA to face possible prosecution by their government. With this bill the American border guards will also have the ability to deal with workers, detain them, and possibly strip search them.

What we have said all along, to the House of Commons, to MPs, to Senators, is that if the Canadian government approves someone to work in Canada no other party should have the authority to take that away. We had some support. At the House of Commons Committee on Public Safety, Diane Watts, a Conservative MP from BC, moved our technical amendment to that effect and it was seconded by Matthew Dubé, an NDP MP from Quebec. That amendment was defeated. In the Senate there was also support from some Senators. On the last day of the three-day Senate process there is line by line review of legislation. Even though this was a big bill, instead of the normal one to two hours review, C-23 was passed in six minutes and 55 seconds.

WF: Besides the concerns about racial profiling and targeting national minority workers do you have other concerns?

RA: We have concerns about everyone. Right now if I want to travel to the U.S. and I enter a preclearance area then I change my mind and decide not to travel, I can just leave. Under this legislation once I walk into preclearance I will not be allowed to leave until I answer to their satisfaction, whatever questions the American border guards want to ask. It goes so far as to allow a U.S. border guard to strip search a Canadian passenger without a Canadian official present.

We are concerned that with these powers U.S. Homeland Security can deny the right to work to any Canadian maritime worker on any grounds and that could include being an outspoken opponent of this legislation. This will impact all maritime workers who need security clearance. That includes everyone at the Canada Place cruise ship terminal and certain other workers in the port, but not all. A worker with a security clearance has to reapply every five years. For workers that already have the security clearance it's when you reapply that your application goes to Homeland Security. We have a hall dispatch system so we process about 50 to 300 workers a day for Canada Place during cruise ship season. We estimate that up to 2,000 workers could be affected by this.

WF: You have raised both the question of workers' rights and national sovereignty. Can you elaborate?

RA: Trudeau talks about defending the middle class. My members are working class, not middle class and what the Trudeau government is doing is attacking the working class. It seems that you are middle class if you are a white male making millions of dollars a year. As far as I am concerned the Canadian government has just told the world that they will not defend Canadian sovereignty. Our position is that if a Canadian worker is cleared by the Canadian government to work in Canada then no foreign government has the right to take that away.

WF: What other actions do you have planned?

RA: We've been told by Transport Canada that we have 18 to 24 months to deal with the regulations so the rallies will get bigger and bigger and we are not going to stop until we have peace for the working class because the working class in this country has been hoodwinked for a long time. They were told during the election that the government would take care of the working class and all it is doing is attacking them.

(Photos: ILWU, BC Civil Liberties Assn.)

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Health Care is a Right!

Ontario Paramedics Raise Concerns Over Changes
to Ambulance Act

On December 12, paramedics from many Ontario cities converged on Queen's Park to oppose dangerous changes to the Ambulance Act made as part of the massive omnibus Bill 160, the Strengthening Quality and Accountability for Patients Act. The bill was adopted after third reading on December 12 and received Royal Assent the same day.

Bill 160 was tabled by the Wynne Liberal government on September 27, which went full steam ahead to push the bill through. Despite the fact that the bill repeals or enacts seven entire Acts and amends more than 30 others, only four days of public hearings were held, all in Toronto. Health care unions denounce Bill 160 for pushing significant new privatization and further threatening local public hospitals. The paramedics' action at Queen's Park focused on Schedule 1 of the bill amending the Ambulance Act. Posted below is an interview with Jason Fraser, Chair of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Ontario Ambulance Committee (CAPO). There are about 8,000 paramedics in Ontario and CAPO represents roughly 5,000 of them.


Workers' Forum: What are the main changes to the Ambulance Act in Bill 160?

Jason Fraser: Schedule 1 is the specific part of Bill 160 that CAPO and Ontario paramedics are concerned with and the amendments are in two parts. One amendment is regarding diverting patients who call 911 for emergency medical care away from traditional hospitals. The second part, which is a big concern to us, is the part that allows the Minister to make amendments to the Act, including allowing two pilot sites for the purpose of allowing people trained as paramedics to work on firetrucks. The government is saying they want to test this. They are looking for two host municipalities to be pilot sites for paramedics working on firetrucks.

As far as the diverting of patients is concerned, we are not still 100 per cent sure of what that would mean. Our take on it is that when we arrive on scene, rather than taking somebody to a traditional emergency room, they will be taken to another facility such as a mental health facility. That seems to be the example that government always gives us. Provided that there are the proper regulations and protocols in place, and that the patients are going to publicly-funded, not-for-profit facilities, we are not opposed to that part. But we need to make sure that the regulations, the policies and the protocols are in place to not only protect the patients but also protect the paramedics. Also, we are not interested in taking people to private facilities by any means. We are still unsure of who will make that decision, to take the patient to a facility other than the traditional emergency room of a hospital. We did not request this change. We have been taking patients to hospitals for years and it is working. Maybe the overcrowding of the hospitals is a factor that explains why this diverting is being put into the law, but then providing proper funding for the hospitals would help the health care system to deal with this problem.

The second part is to allow people that are trained as paramedics that currently work in fire services to work on firetrucks and perform paramedic duties. We find that very problematic. That is our work. That is the work we do. There is no evidence that a paramedic working on a firetruck would mean an improvement in patient care over the care that is currently provided. We also see this as an increase of liability for municipalities, because there are currently no regulations, no protocols and no quality assurance programs to oversee paramedic work on a fire truck. In Ontario, the municipalities are the employers of the paramedics. The funding of the paramedic services is roughly split 50-50 between the provincial government and the municipalities. Paramedics in Ontario that provide paramedic services are highly regulated. There is extensive oversight, regulations and compliances in place to ensure the safety of patients and that system just does not exist in fire services in regards to patient care.

If the provincial Liberal government feels there is a need to increase the number of paramedics working, that are able to provide patient care in the communities, they should be investing money back into the paramedic services that already exist and not duplicate the services.

At the moment, there is no such thing as a fire-medic model in Ontario. You can work as a full-time firefighter in the province and also work part-time as a paramedic, but you are doing your paramedic service on our trucks, based on the regulations and oversight of our service.

We do not agree that this model should be introduced and nobody seems to be able to answer why it is being introduced. All the union groups that represent paramedics are opposed to it. The Association of Municipalities of Ontario is opposed to it.

Over the course of the summer, before the bill was tabled, and right up until the third reading of the bill, we had several meetings with people at the Ministry of Health who were working on the file. We talked to several MPPs and also the Minister of Health, in the first week of October. We were not listened to. The Minister invited CUPE to make amendments that we could be comfortable with. CUPE did that. We proposed amendments but they were not accepted.

We have serious concerns about the patients. We are always looking out for our patients to make sure that they have the best available care and we want to continue to provide that. The government should increase the funding for the existing paramedic services, not reinvent the wheel and introduce a second system. Fire suppression and fire prevention and paramedic services are two different jobs. Proper funding for paramedic services and proper funding for hospitals as well, would help the overall system.

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Readers' Note

With this issue, Workers' Forum ceases publication for this year. Our next issue will be produced on January 18 before the new session of Parliament is set to begin. During the break, we invite you to join in the work of the Workers' Centre to set the course for a successful New Year in the light of all the challenges which face the workers' movement. To reach us, send an email to:

The Workers' Centre of CPC(M-L) and the Editorial and Technical Staff of Workers' Forum wish all readers season's greetings and a safe and happy New Year.

Pierre Chénier Secretary, Workers' Centre, CPC(M-L)

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