February 22, 2018

Hearings on Quebec Bill that Further Criminalizes
Construction Workers

Interventions in Defence of the Rights
of Construction Workers


Striking construction workers march in Montreal, May 25, 2017. Within days their strike was criminalized and workers forced back to work.

Hearings on Quebec Bill that Further Criminalizes Construction Workers
Interventions in Defence of the Rights of Construction Workers

Quebec Nurses Take Action to End the Crisis in Their Sector
Outaouais Hospital Workers -- Militant Contingent to Smash the Silence on Working Conditions - Pierre Soublière
Anti-Social Restructuring of Health Care -- The Example of the North Shore
 - Interview, Nathalie Savard, President, Union of Nurses, Licensed Practical
Nurses and Inhalotherapists of Northeastern Quebec

Another Blow to Canadian Workers and Economy
PepsiCo Shuts Down Alberta Spitz Sunflower Seed Factory

Nova Scotia
Whatever It Takes! Teachers Stand Up to McNeil Liberals

Hearings on Quebec Bill that Further Criminalizes Construction Workers

Interventions in Defence of the Rights of
Construction Workers

Striking construction workers rally outside the Quebec National Assembly, May 24, 2017.

Representatives of Quebec construction workers addressed the Committee on Labour and the Economy of the Quebec legislature at special hearings on February 6 and 7. They came to denounce the government's anti-worker Bill 152, An Act to amend various labour-related legislative provisions mainly to give effect to certain Charbonneau Commission recommendations.

Bill 152 directly intervenes in the relations of production between construction employers and construction workers on behalf of the employers.[1] It steps up the criminalization of construction workers. It denies construction workers their basic right to stable and safe working conditions and, when workers must take remedial action, especially in the heat of the moment, their right to meet and discuss the issues confronting them at their work-sites, speak, associate in their collectives, stand up for themselves are all denied in practice under one excuse or another.

Bill 152 further escalates the attacks on construction workers who have already been subjected to the full weight of the state and its police powers. The state has criminalized construction workers for exercising their right to organize in defence of their claims on the value they create, for safe and healthy working conditions and for solutions to the problems of the construction industry that favour the workers, economy and society.

The five unions representing construction workers in Quebec submitted briefs to the Committee and testified at the hearings: FTQ-Construction, Quebec Building Trades Council (International), CSN-Construction, CSD-Construction, and the Quebec Construction Union.

The central union bodies in which some of the unions participate also took part in the proceedings: the Quebec Federation of Labour (FTQ), the Confederation of National Trade Unions (CSN), and the Congress of Democratic Trade Unions (CSD).

Several construction employers' organizations also presented briefs and testified, as well as general employers' organizations such as the Quebec Employers Council. The Quebec Construction Commission (CCQ), the state agency responsible for the implementation of the related Act Respecting Labour Relations, Vocational Training, and Workforce Management in the Construction Industry (Act R-20) also presented a brief and testified.

Trade union representatives denounced the bill as an attack on workers' rights in favour of employers, and, in particular, an attack on the basic right of workers and their unions to organize and defend their rights directly at their workplaces.

FTQ-Construction General Manager Yves Ouellet said: "The bill directly undermines our rights and freedoms and encourages employers to interfere with union activities that aim to improve the living and working conditions of workers. The FTQ-Construction totally opposes this Sword of Damocles that hangs over the heads of the representatives of the workers and associations.... The role of the representative, what is it? It is to ensure a balance between the workers and the employer in a labour relations regime that generates more and more inequalities, to combat prejudices, to identify the schemes and to enforce health and safety (regulations), collective agreements, visit sites following complaints from workers on site or following random visits, and call on the CCQ and CNESST [Commission des normes, de l'équité, de la santé et de la sécurité du travail -- Labour Standards, Pay Equity, and Workplace Health and Safety Board] when necessary ... Yes, we think that the bill as it stands violates our rights and is extremely limiting. It puts a Sword of Damocles over the union representative, who is the main link between the worker and his rights because he knows that he is able to achieve something for the worker. And that's important. Then that's what we do not like in the bill: it's going to put the union representative in danger."

Union representatives denounced various repressive measures against construction workers contained in Bill 152. For example, the bill greatly expands the scope of the criminalization of workers and anyone who puts forward demands in defence of their rights. The bill says, "Any person who uses intimidation or threats that are likely to cause an obstruction to or a slowdown or stoppage of activities on a job site is guilty of an offence and liable to a fine of $1,120 to $11,202 for each day or part of a day during which the offence continues." (WF emphasis).

The representatives pointed out that the language "any person" and "likely to" opens the door to the arbitrary use of the courts by employers and the CCQ to attack workers, union representatives, the unions themselves and even people in the communities, without any regard to the content for which workers and people are fighting.

They also denounced the clause of the bill which says, "An association of employees, a representative of such an association or an employee that holds an employee meeting at the place of employment without the employer's consent or that orders, encourages or supports the holding of such a meeting is guilty of an offence and is liable, for each day or part of a day the offence continues, to a fine of $7,842 to $78,411 in the case of an association or representative, and $1,120 to $11,202 in the case of an employee."

CSD Vice-President Martin L'Abbée said: "The prohibition against holding a meeting of employees in the workplace without the employer's consent, in section 118.1, could be interpreted as 'Anyone who holds a union discussion on the site could be accused.' Let's imagine that the CSD-Construction representative comes to a construction site to meet his members. Is this a meeting? Does he need permission to bring a document to a worker? To see how the work is going? To assess if the rules in health and safety are being respected? ... The union representative on a building site, or an ordinary member of CSD-Construction who speaks with colleagues on any work-related subject, could that be considered a meeting? And should he have had the prior consent of the employer? These are just a few examples of what could happen and where anyone could ultimately be charged.... Yet in labour relations, is it not the role of the parties, both employer and union, to talk to each other and solve problems at the source? Should labour relations matters not be dealt with where they occur? We request the withdrawal of Section 18."

In their interventions, the union representatives made a point of presenting the real conditions that prevail in the industry, which reveal the extremely repressive and fraudulent nature of Bill 152 while it claims to ensure the proper functioning of the construction industry.

CSN-Construction President Pierre Brassard said, "The underlying problem is job security, recall clauses and layoffs. If I know I will keep my job, it will encourage me to denounce, denounce and stay away from, the system of corruption and collusion with employers.... That's what we have to look at, rather than putting together a package of fines, or raising the fines. We have to make sure that there is no more persecution of whistleblowers, which means the worker at the base... the whistleblower, if we do not protect him, forget it."

(Bill 152 claims to protect the "whistleblowers" through a system of fines against those who retaliate against them. This "protection" is through the state agency CCQ, which is well known for repressing workers who speak out. -- WF Note)

Brassard further said, "You can have all the fines you want, you can have all the penalties you want, there is never going to be anyone who will speak up. If we had job security with a recall clause, not something shady, it would be easier to not accept things like this. It would encourage workers to denounce things.... Because if I do not have protection, I am not going to denounce [perceived corruption]."

The bill goes so far that it prohibits union representatives convicted of breaking the law from performing their duties for up to five years. In this industry, this amounts to an expulsion from the sites and from the union for life. "Five years makes no sense. We lose our job when we lose five years. It's not true that it's just five years of being suspended. You will never come back to work after five years, it is impossible in an industry like ours," said FTQ-Construction General Manager Yves Ouellet.

Representatives of employers' organizations applauded the bill as a contribution to the elimination of "intimidation" on construction sites. They were pleased with its full-fledged attack on workers and its defence of employers under the hoax of making sure that work is not disrupted on construction sites.

The CCQ once again played its role as an active advocate for the deployment of police powers against construction workers. It fully supported the new measures such as the use of the words "likely to cause an obstruction to or a slowdown or stoppage of activities on a job site." The state institution openly admitted that it actually worked with the Director of Criminal and Penal Prosecutions to ensure the government introduced the most repressive bill possible. In particular, it asked for and obtained a provision that the CCQ will have the power to seize the computers and even the cell phone of anyone it claims is suspected of fraud or intimidation on construction sites.

Throughout the hearings, the Minister of Labour played the typical liberal role of pretending to strike a balance between the goal of criminalizing construction workers and the objections of workers to the attacks on their rights. For example, the Minister asked union representatives if they had a formula to replace the term "likely to" that would be acceptable to them while maintaining the intimidation charges against them. She also asked the union representatives to come up with a mitigated or slightly weakened clause that they could live with that would still criminalize workers holding meetings or discussions at the workplaces.

The Couillard government's Bill 152 is an attack on the basic rights of workers and an instrument for aggravating the problems of the construction industry by deploying the police powers of the state against those who produce immense social wealth that society depends on. The bill must be withdrawn as repugnant and considered a criminal attempt to establish a police regime in the construction industry.


See "Strengthening Police Powers Will Not Solve the Problems of the Workers or the Sector!" Workers' Forum, January 25, 2018.

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Quebec Nurses Take Action to End the Crisis in Their Sector

Outaouais Hospital Workers -- Militant Contingent
to Smash the Silence on Working Conditions

Forty nurses at the Hull Hospital in Gatineau have had enough of their unsustainable working conditions and published an "Outaouais Emergency Black Book." The "Black Book" says, among other things, "Today, we firmly denounce the miserable working conditions in which we are forced to work. Miserable conditions that compromise the health and safety of patients in the Outaouais but also members of the nursing staff." The nurses have chosen to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals.

They also denounce the "management method to use as few staff as possible while we must manage as best we can when a large number of patients requiring critical care come to the emergency room."

They demand safe nurse-patient ratios and denounce the dangerous situation that prevails. They also express their frustration at not being heard.

One of the consequences of the shortage of nurses is explained in a report from the group Santé Outaouais 2020, whose president is former Mayor of Hull Michel Légère and its vice-president is pediatrician Dr. Henriette Fortin. Presently, only four of the hospital's five operating rooms are running due to a nursing shortage. This resulted in almost 900 fewer surgical operations at the Hull Hospital in 2017 compared to the previous year, including 300 fewer orthopedic surgeries and 371 fewer day surgeries. The report's authors also point out that to make up for the lack of nurses, managers have made continuous use of overtime, to the extent that the Hull Hospital has the highest overtime rate in all of Quebec for its operating rooms.

Of course, the dramatic situation in hospitals also affects other hospital staff. On February 19, orderlies, maintenance workers, office and food services staff held a sit-in to get their message across and denounce the work overload and the many overtime demands from management. The President of the Outaouais Health Care and Social Services Workers Union (STTSSSO-CSN) raised the need to increase investment in the health care network. The union also invited MNA Maryse Gaudreault to work a week in their jobs. At this time, the so-called representatives of the people have all taken up the most cynical refrain that it is the nurses themselves who are the problem because denouncing their horrendous working conditions makes the profession look less "attractive" to the next generation!

The question of workers' right to speak out -- their right to smash the silence and to defend their dignity and the well-being of the people -- must be fully supported!

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Anti-Social Restructuring of Health Care --
The Example of the North Shore

The Union of Nurses, Licensed Practical Nurses and Inhalotherapists of Northeastern Quebec (SIISNEQ) represents approximately 1,250 nurses, licensed practical nurses and inhalotherapists in three networks: the Integrated Health and Social Services Centre (CISSS) on the North Shore, the Regional Health and Social Services (CRSSS) in James Bay and the Community Health Centre (CLSC) of Naskapi in Northern Quebec. The union is affiliated with the Centrale des syndicats du Québec. Workers' Forum recently talked with SIISNEQ President Nathalie Savard about the impact of health care restructuring on remote areas.


Workers' Forum: What is the impact of the restructuring of the health care system in the regions you cover?

Nathalie Savard: In Northeastern Quebec, there is the CRSSS in James Bay, which existed as an integrated health institution before Bill 10 [that imposed widespread restructuring and integration] was passed in 2015. It is as if the government took this model to create the CISSS. What has changed a lot is on the North Shore, a huge territory with completely different realities. We are talking about 1,300 km of coastline. We have two big health care centres which are in Baie-Comeau and Sept-Îles. These are full-fledged hospitals that each have an operating room. In the rest of the region there are small centres that offer emergency departments, community services, and short-term hospitalization. They do not have operating rooms. There are also clinics in remote isolated villages.

I would say that since the amalgamation of all the health care institutions on the North Shore, three years after the passing of Bill 10, we are still struggling with structures and trying to become functional institutions. In that time, all the important issues for the members we represent have become critical, such as reducing the workforce that is hired through private agencies. No work has been done to reduce mandatory overtime, which has gone through the roof. Our nurses regularly do two, three and four shifts of mandatory overtime per week. And in the middle of all this, there are currently 146 positions to fill that have not been posted since the CISSS was created. In addition, the employer is abolishing full-time positions to transform them into part-time positions.

The CISSS has a $ 9.6 million deficit. This was the case for the past four to five years. Within this situation, the CEO of the CISSS says there are no cuts to service for the people. Yet this $9.6 million deficit must be eliminated over a period of three years according to the Minister's decision under the zero-deficit legislation. It is obvious that this is being done through service cuts. Short-term beds were recently cut in Les Escoumins, which is an hour-and-a-half drive from the nearest hospital in Baie-Comeau. So people now have to drive for three hours to see family in the hospital and in our region there are no highways and if the weather is bad the whole trip is risky. We can see that in small communities, they are trying to centralize services for the benefit of large hospitals, at the expense of local needs. The proximity of services to the population that we had before is declining. According to Minister of Health Gaétan Barrette, the aim of the health care reform was to reduce administration costs and improve accessibility. Well, we ran a $9.6 million deficit last year and when short-term beds in small villages are closed and people have to go to Baie-Comeau or Sept-Îles to get services, I do not think that access to care has improved either.

WF: In a vast region like the North Shore, what is happening with the issue of workforce mobility and flexibility pushed by the reform?

NS: Mobility and flexibility of the workforce is indeed an important issue.

What is important for nurses and inhalotherapists is the quality of the care and this requires stability. This means stable work teams in emergency departments, intensive care, etc. Our union was aware that these things were coming and during the last national negotiation we fought on this matter. We ended our negotiations later than some federations for a reason. We went on strike for a number of days to make sure that the employer could not unilaterally impose mobility and flexibility on us, like taking a nurse who lives in Sept-Îles and sending her to work in the Lower North Shore which is four hours away by plane. We were right in waging this fight because for the employer a nurse is a nurse and that is it, she must work anywhere. Life is not like that. There are different fields in nursing. If you have worked for 15 years in the emergency department, you have developed definite skills. I would not see a nurse working at a senior care facility to go the next morning to intensive care without the proper training and also the proper abilities.

We fought for and got provisions in our collective agreement that the employers cannot make unilateral decisions on workforce mobility and flexibility. They have to sit with us and there are clear rules. An agreement with the union is needed, and as far as we are concerned, we consult the members. We are doing the same thing in James Bay.

We are there to ensure that our people have working conditions that allow them to work in dignity and provide quality care to the public. Our employers and the government should have the same goal as us.

There are solutions, of which we have plenty, but they require reinvestment in the health care system and an end to the budget cuts that have accompanied the structural reforms. On the North Shore, in five years, $30 million has been cut, while the new structures and mergers were improvised without any planning.

Is the health care system being destroyed to better sell it off to those in the private sector, like the colleagues of the Minister of Health? We think this is the case, that the destruction of the public health network is for the benefit of private interests who want to get the system back in their hands. Fifty to 60 years ago the health care system was private and people went into debt for treatment and there were people who did not get treatment because they could not afford it. We made a collective decision in those years to give ourselves a public service that is available to all regardless of the size their wallets.

It is up to the people of Quebec to decide how our politicians implement our decision to have public health care. We have to stand up and say that's enough. We have to manage the system differently.

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Another Blow to Canadian Workers and Economy

PepsiCo Shuts Down Alberta
Spitz Sunflower Seed Factory

PepsiCo announced it will cease operations at the Spitz sunflower seed processing plant in southern Alberta this July. Fifty-three workers will lose their employment that produces value for themselves, the economy and small community of Bow Island. Local sub-contractors and suppliers will also be adversely affected. In a province dominated by resource extraction and the export of raw and partially refined material, the Spitz factory is an exception, producing consumer goods from local material.

PepsiCo issued an arrogant statement, consistent with those who have no concern for the social consequences to the workers and farmers of Alberta and the Canadian economy and society. PepsiCo said the entire Spitz operation will be moved to facilities in the United States as this fits its narrow private interests. The statement reads in part, "This facility [at Bow Island] will close later this year and Spitz production will be moving to an existing contract manufacturer partner in the U.S. This was a business decision based on an extensive evaluation of the long-term viability of this site and its ability to meet our increasing volume requirements for the brand, which will continue to play an important role in our North American portfolio."

The PepsiCo business decision reveals the lack of control of Canadian workers and farmers over their own economy and lives. The decision is based on the narrow imperialist aim of PepsiCo to expand its private empire at the expense of Canadian nation-building, according to its calculations of being able in this way to expropriate the maximum added-value.

PepsiCo first seized Spitz Inc in 2008, taking control of its operations in Bow Island and Medicine Hat, Alberta and the associated technical knowledge and patents. At the time, Spitz was the leading Canadian brand of sunflower and pumpkin seed snacks and in competition with PepsiCo's Frito-Lay portfolio of food products. In announcing the takeover in 2008, PepsiCo boasted that it has a history of seizing small Canadian food companies to expand its Frito Lay Canada subsidiary, turning it into "one of Canada's largest food companies."

The Spitz company began operations in 1982 producing sunflower seeds as bird feed. It soon branched into consumer snacks eventually becoming a large operation with over 70 workers in Bow Island and Medicine Hat, transforming sunflower and pumpkin seeds grown locally into finished packaged commodities and sending them out for wide circulation in retail stores, gaining a popular following. Twenty-six years later in 2008, the owners of Spitz sold the operation to PepsiCo headquartered in New York state, which then began to expropriate for itself the added-value Spitz workers produce and decide the distribution and use of that value. Within eight years PepsiCo closed the Spitz facility in Medicine Hat, and two years later has announced the shutdown of the remaining operation in Bow Island. This is nation-wrecking at the hands of the U.S. imperialists with the full complicity of Canadian state authorities and governments.

By seizing Spitz in 2008, PepsiCo began the destruction of yet another food company in Canada. First, it gained control of the expropriation of the added-value workers produce; however, with continued operations in Canada the reproduced-value workers claim from the sale of their capacity to work remained in Alberta along with much of the transferred-value from material. Now with the complete shutdown of the Canadian operation, and production moved to the United States, when Canadians buy a Spitz snack, almost the entire exchange-value will flow out of Canada to the U.S. The only value remaining in Canada will be a small retail mark-up and some of the value from transportation. This effectively drains value from the Canadian economy, greatly weakening it.

The necessity for a Canadian nation-building project that vests decision-making in the people is obvious. It will give the actual producers control over their means of production, the social product they produce, and its value both for themselves and for use in the extended reproduction of a stable, self-reliant economy that provides the material basis to guarantee the well-being, security and rights of all Canadians.

The vitriol and mania of the current Alberta government for pipelines, to increase the export of raw material, misses the point entirely of the necessity for nation-building under the control of the working people themselves. The control of the imperialists dominated by the oil and gas and other cartels that are only interested in ripping tribute out of the province has proven to be a disaster.

For other reports of recent imperialist nation-wrecking of food production in Canada see: "Closure of Former McCain Food Plant in Saint-André, New Brunswick," Workers' Forum, February 15, 2018 and "Campbell Soup to Shut Down Canadian Manufacturing Plant," Janice Murray, Workers' Forum, February 1, 2018.

(With files from the CBC)

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Nova Scotia

Whatever It Takes!
Teachers Stand Up to McNeil Liberals

Join Rally in Defence of the Rights of All!

Tuesday, February 27, 12:00- 5:00 pm

Nova Scotia Legislature, on the Granville Street side
Organized by Nova Scotia Parents for Teachers Group,
Nova Scotians Rise Up and others

Working people have the right to a say and control over their lives. The people are organizing to achieve this aim. Nova Scotia needs democratic renewal and increased funding for social programs and universal free public services. Nova Scotia does not need or want autocratic governments that dictate terms of employment and an austerity program to pay the rich in opposition to the needs and rights of the people.

Join the rally and demonstrate with fellow Nova Scotians for the rights of all at the Legislature in Halifax !

For further information contact nsworkersforum@yahoo.com

The situation has come to a breaking point for Nova Scotia teachers, who are once again standing up to defend their rights under very difficult circumstances. The governing McNeil Liberals imposed a contract last year on 9,300 teachers, the ridiculously named Bill 75, the Teachers' Professional Agreement and Classroom Improvements Act, where no agreement was reached with teachers and classrooms were not improved.

The government is now continuing its attack on the teachers by proposing full implementation of a report it commissioned by Dr. Avis Glaze. The McNeil government precisely commissioned this report because it knew what the recommendations would be and has now accepted them without hesitation.

This practice shows utter contempt for the teachers, other education workers, students, and parents who are directly affected and have definite ideas regarding how to improve the education system and the teachers' terms of employment. Discussion is also taking place as to how the value education creates should come back into the school system, in a proper exchange of values with the enterprises and institutions that employ educated workers and directly benefit from the enormous value they possess.

In the months leading up to imposition of the McNeil Bill 75 dictate negating teachers' right to decide, the governing Liberals refused to listen to any recommendations from the teachers who do the work, from the students who study within the conditions in which teachers work, and from counsellors, parents and other concerned Nova Scotians. The government went ahead and brought Bill 75 down on the heads of all those involved in education and then commissioned the Glaze report to rubberstamp and justify its brazen dictate. This unacceptable government attack on the rights of those who do the work and are directly affected will not stand!

On February 20, the Nova Scotia Teachers Union held a province-wide strike vote. Liette Doucet, president of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union (NSTU) announced on Wednesday that 82.5 per cent of teachers voted in favour of taking job action to defend their rights in the face of unilateral sweeping changes the government threatens to impose.

"They [teachers] made this decision knowing that they could face a loss of pay and heavy fines. They are so concerned for students and the future of education in this province that they are willing to accept hardship in hopes that it will demonstrate to the government that the only way forward is through meaningful consultation," Ms. Doucet told reporters outside the NSTU office.

The NSTU said 93 per cent of the union's more than 10,000 public school members voted and 82.5 per cent supported job action, whether the government declares it illegal or not. This calculates as nearly 77 per cent of eligible teachers voted to strike.

The form the strike will take has yet to be decided, however already media are attempting to turn the teachers No!, in the form of their strike vote, into a law and order matter, calling any strike "illegal" given the fact that the contract the government imposed is still in place.

Workers Forum fully supports Nova Scotia's teachers and calls on everyone to stand with them as they express their No! to unnaceptable dictate over their working conditions which are students' learning conditions.

Who Should Decide the Working and Learning Conditions
in Schools in Nova Scotia?

The people who do the work should decide their terms of employment, and, in consultation with those directly affected by the work, they should also decide the direction of the sector. Teachers, students, parents and other concerned members of the polity should decide the working and learning conditions in schools and how the value that education creates should be returned to the sector for its extended reproduction. This is a modern principle upholding the rights of all, the stability and health of the economy and the general interests of society.

People do not and will not accept the anti-social fraud of a government dictate over terms of employment and the direction of the education system. The government is completely self-serving. The big corporations that refuse to acknowledge the value teachers and the education system create and put into their students, are not fit to decide anything which concerns education.

The nonsense of "taxpayers' ability to pay" is a concoction to avoid dealing with the reality of a modern interconnected economy. The government believes that bellowing inanities about taxpayers gives it carte blanche to attack teachers, students and the education system and deny the enormous value education contributes to the economy and society year after year. In fact, the individual taxpayer should not pay for the education system; those enterprises and institutions that consume education value should pay directly back to the education system the amount they gain in value from their educated employees.

The slander that teachers are self-serving and use students as pawns to fill their pockets with cash is pathetic. Teachers go about their work with the utmost professionalism and concern for improving the learning conditions. They donate their own money to provide classrooms with teaching materials. They are blocked by those in government and the big business community who want to deprive teachers of their right to decide and deny the value education creates for the economy and society. Throughout this recent struggle for a negotiated contract and to improve the learning conditions of students in Nova Scotia, teachers have stood as one in defence of their modern right to decide and for the right of Nova Scotia's youth to a modern education for all at the highest level.

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