The Redford government's actions and revelations from
testimony at the recent Alberta Labour Relations Board's hearings into
anti-worker Bills 45 and 46 reveal what the government means by
"negotiations" and "getting back to the bargaining table." Negotiations
according to the government are only for purposes of trying to convince
public sector workers to submit "voluntarily" to austerity,
privatization and the wrecking of public services. The government
threatens that any group within the public sector refusing to submit
voluntarily to austerity and denial of rights will be hung out to dry
and attacked with even more draconian conditions of work than now
If workers are denied peaceful discussions and
negotiations to sort out arrangements regarding terms of employment and
instead are met with state-organized force and dictate, what options
and avenues of defence are left to the working class. This is a
dangerous course for a supposed democracy to take. It predicts a time
of constant disequilibrium in society.
Individual workers and their collectives do not want to
be in constant battle with employers and their government
representatives over terms of employment. Equilibrium in employment
relations can be found based on recognition of the rights of the
working class. For this to happen in Alberta, the government must take
a first step by renouncing its Bills 45 and 46 and other acts of state
violence and re-establish good faith bargaining with public sector
workers over terms of employment and allow workers to express their
individual and collective views effectively.
The refusal of this and other governments in Canada to
uphold the rights of the working class is a sign that the direction of
society is retrogressive and unacceptable. Governments do not reflect
the popular will and are taking society down a dangerous path. The time
for people's empowerment is now and the challenge for the working class
is how to give its own empowerment a social form. TML calls
on everyone concerned with the direction of society and their own
empowerment to contact us to discuss and give concrete form to this
struggle for the new.
rally to denounce Bills 45 and 46 in Edmonton (top) and Calgary. (UNA, TML)
The Alberta Labour Relations Board (ALRB) started and
adjourned to a later date hearings into the bad faith bargaining
complaint of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) against
the government concerning Bill 46. The Public Service Salary
Restraint Act (Bill 46) gave the government legal authority to
cancel arbitration and impose a four-year-contract on 22,000 provincial
public sector workers. The ALRB hearings on the complaint took place
from January 8 to 10.
The Redford PC government claims that Bill 46 was a
response to AUPE's decision to apply for arbitration after 12 days of
bargaining. It states, "AUPE walked away from the table, but
legislating an agreement is not our preferred approach" as the purpose
of the bill was to "get back to the bargaining table." Such statements
are transparently false as it is clear that the government was never
prepared to engage in good faith bargaining but intent on imposing a
wage freeze in line with its anti-social "austerity agenda."
The three days of hearings confirmed that the government
never intended to carry out good faith negotiations. According to AUPE
media releases dealing with the testimony of Peter Watson, deputy
minister of the executive council, "Watson confirmed that in April
2013, a policy group was created to produce Bill 46. He also confirmed
a mandate was set by the treasury and handed down to the government's
bargaining committee. The mandate dictates a maximum wage proposal that
fits within the Redford government's fiscal agenda. The wage proposal
in the mandate is zero per cent for three years and two per cent in the
"The disclosure by Watson of both the early construction
of Bill 46, which legislates a deal and removes the right to
arbitration for 22,000 government employees, and the dictated wage
proposal, is proof in AUPE's opinion, that the government never had the
intention to bargain in good faith."
This means that the government was busy writing
legislation to cancel arbitration right at the outset of bargaining and
had already decided on the terms of the settlement it intended to
impose. It also embarked at that time on writing Bill 45 to define
virtually any act of resistance as a strike and impose crippling
financial penalties for any actions workers took to say no! to wages
and working conditions they found unacceptable. The government intended
that the two pieces of legislation (Bills 45 & 46) would remove all
avenues open to the workers and their union so government could impose
conditions of employment through state force.
AUPE says the forthcoming ALRB hearings will allow it to
question Alberta's public service commissioner and demand Peter Watson
answer questions. To this point according to the union, he has been
"alarmingly opaque and vague."
During the testimony, Watson tried to downplay the fact
that legislation was being planned months in advance saying that such a
scenario is often the case. Legislation is prepared ahead and waiting
in the wings in case it is needed, he said.
Watson considered the government's actions simply as
business as usual and a normal practice to prepare legislation
beforehand so that state force and violence could be quickly used to
sort out arrangements in its relations with public sector workers and
to impose terms of employment. Public sector workers and their allies
across the country refuse to accept that legislated dictate and violent
government extremism against the working class are the new normal.
Unions Affirm Workers' Rights and Launch Legal
Challenge to Bill 45 and Labour Legislation
The Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) and the
United Nurses of Alberta (UNA) recently launched separate Charter
challenges to Bill 45, the Public Sector Services Continuation Act,
the Alberta Labour Relations Act and the Public Services
Employees Relations Act. These challenges are based on the Alberta
government's violation of the right to freedom of expression, freedom
of association, liberty and fundamental principles of justice.
A statement outlining the Charter challenges
says Bill 45 violates the right to be presumed innocent until proven
guilty according to law in a fair and public hearing by an impartial
and independent tribunal, the right to due process, and the right not
to be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment.
Bill 45 was introduced without warning and rammed
through the Legislature in one week in December 2013 allowing only two
hours of debate at each stage of the bill. It imposes crippling
financial penalties on public sector unions and their members who
exercise their right to say no! to wages and working conditions imposed
on them without their consent. The penalties can be imposed for a
strike or strike threat. The legislation provides new definitions
defining a strike or strike threat so broad that they could include a
work to rule, a study session, or even a ban on overtime. Bill 45 also
sets out punishment for anyone who "counsels" union members to take
The UNA states, "The broader definition of strike under
Bill 45, coupled with a prohibition on activity that could 'reasonably
be perceived as preparation for an employees' strike,' is so broad as
to further restrict forthright and passionate discussion about
workplace issues, political issues, social issues, and/or collective
bargaining, including whether job action or withdrawal of labour should
The Charter challenges affirm that
workers have the right to organize into trade unions, join trade
unions, engage in collective bargaining and good faith negotiations
with the employer, engage in job action, strike, picket, and threaten
to withdraw or withdraw their labour to achieve their collective goals.
Therefore, both the Labour Relations Code,
which makes strikes illegal for Alberta government service workers,
public sector health care workers and firefighters, and Bill 45, which
expands the definition of a strike or strike threat and imposes
penalties that are even more draconian are in contempt of these rights.
The challenges also point out that the prohibition on strikes is made
without any determination as to who is performing an essential service
or any mechanism to make such a determination.
The same government contempt for the Legislature, which
it showed in committing the crime of using its majority to pass these
bills, is shown towards principles that have been considered
fundamental to the rule of law.
Normal safeguards contained in the Alberta Rules of
Court, which must be followed before a finding of civil contempt can be
made are dispensed with. Huge fines in the form of administrative
penalties can be imposed on unions, union officers and individual
workers without notice and without a hearing. If the fine is not paid,
the Minister can file a copy with the court, which then becomes
enforceable as a court order, despite the fact that no hearing has
taken place. What happened to the right to a trial?
Bill 45 is also in contempt of the right to be presumed
innocent until found guilty in a court of law. In order to avoid a dues
suspension, unions and their officers have to meet three conditions
contrary to the rule of law. They have to prove that the strike or
strike threat occurred against the express instructions of the trade
union, which must have been given prior to the strike or strike threat
occurring, and that all the actions of the union and its officers have
been consistent with the instructions.
The government says it can charge and find the union and
its officers and representatives guilty of contravening the Act simply
because they have previously been found guilty of contravening the Act.
The Redford government has become so wild that it has enacted a law
saying that if you are found guilty once, you are automatically guilty
from then on and that any defence is useless because you are presumed
guilty based on a previous conviction. What kind of law is this?!
The challenges also argue out why the legislation
imposes penalties that are grossly disproportionate to the activity for
which the penalties are imposed. For example, AUPE would be subject to
a fine of $1.45 million per day in the event of a strike or strike
threat. If a group of workers decided to vote in one week on whether to
organize a slowdown, by the time the vote took place the union would be
liable for penalties amounting to more than $10 million. They would
also face a dues suspension for 10 months, amounting to $12.5 million.
Individual workers and officers of the union could also be fined.
The use of state-organized force and violence against
the working people is not new in Alberta or in Canada. Legislatures and
Parliaments have ordered workers back to work time after time and
deprived entire sectors of a legal right to say no! and to back up
their no! with strike action. Injunctions and other measures are used
to allow employers to use scab replacement workers while workers are
criminalized for organizing an effective picket line.
Farm workers are not even allowed to join unions. Wage
controls have been imposed through legislation. But Bill 45 shows that
governments are now completely out of control. Its purpose is clearly
to prevent the public sector unions from meaningfully representing
their members, and to clear the way for more privatization and wrecking
of public services. Private monopoly interests have directly usurped
state authority and are prepared to use force and violence to suppress
anyone who stands in their way.
Albertans are not going to stand for it! The extremist
stands of the PCs that they will use force to impose their agenda of
austerity and wrecking of public services cannot and will not be
tolerated. The working people are showing their determination to put an
end to the takeover of public institutions including government itself
by the global energy cartels and other monopoly private interests. The
political parties representing private monopoly interests can be
defeated and the times are calling on everyone to rise to the challenge.
Health Care Workers Confront
Intransigent Provincial Government
Collective agreements have expired or will expire by
March 31 for more than 70,000 health care workers employed by Alberta
Health Services (AHS). Health care workers employed by Covenant Health
and other employers including long term care facilities are also
expiring March 31.
The Redford government is intent on imposing wage
freezes on the health care sector and to dictate changes in working
conditions. The unions representing health care workers and their
members have made it clear that they are not going to accept
voluntarily the Redford government's anti-social austerity agenda of
wage freezes and attacks on their working conditions. They are
determined to defend their working conditions, which are the basic
conditions of their patients and others needing health care and
Bill 46 authorized the violent state attack on the wages
and working conditions of provincial government workers. Health care
workers are determined to resist similar state-organized violence and
extremist measures if unleashed against them.
United Nurses of Alberta
The collective agreement between the United Nurses of
Alberta (UNA) and AHS expired March 31, 2013. The UNA is holding town
hall meetings across the province where nurses are discussing their
concerns about the drastic changes to their provincial contract being
demanded by AHS as well as the attacks on their pension plan. It was
standing room only at the Edmonton town hall meeting held January 14,
as nurses packed the hall to discuss their concerns. Their
participation in large numbers shows their determination to defend
their right to decide and to say No! to wages and working conditions
imposed through force and dictate.
AHS' retrogressive assault on nurses' working conditions
includes proposals that would take UNA members back to working
conditions of the 1970s and 80s. AHS says it is determined to institute
12 hour schedules without union input and agreement. Instead, it says
it will confront individual nurses with specific proposals leaving them
open to pressure and intimidation tactics and without the strength of
Under the language AHS is dictating, once 12 hour shifts
are in place, only the employer could end the arrangement. Nurses could
also be forced to work a combination of 8 and 12 hours shifts, which
the UNA points out gives nurses "the worst of both worlds." AHS is also
trying to reduce time off between shifts and change the definition of a
weekend. Other unilateral changes eliminate the guarantee of two
complete days of rest between work periods and eliminate designated
days off for part-time nurses.
AHS claims it wants to increase the number of full-time
positions. If this is the case, why are so many casual, temporary and
part-time jobs being posted across the province? In reality, AHS has
reduced the number of full-time positions, and has plans to eliminate
many nursing jobs and replace them with health care aides.
General Support Services Workers
General support services (GSS) workers at hospitals
across Alberta, represented by the Alberta Union of Provincial
Employees (AUPE) and the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) are
also in negotiations. Their contracts expire March 31, 2014. In 2012,
GSS workers represented by AUPE walked out to protest the government's
insulting wage offer when AHS made a new offer that was even less than
what the mediator had recommended. The walkout started at the Royal
Alexandra Hospital in Edmonton and quickly spread across the province.
The workers were subsequently able to negotiate a contract acceptable
to themselves with a three per cent increase in each of the three years
of the contract.
The contract for professional and technical health care
staff represented by the Health Sciences Association of Alberta also
expires on March 31, 2014.
The Necessity for Organized Resistance to Retrogression
Bills 45 and 46 were enacted to cut off all options for
provincial government employees to achieve a settlement through
collective bargaining. The Redford government has declared that it is
no longer interested in peaceful negotiations to achieve an agreement
that aims towards mutual benefit.
The government will likely use shock and
awe tactics as it did in December against public sector workers. U.S.
military strategy defines the components of shock and awe as the use of
direct force, selective denial of information and dissemination of
disinformation, overwhelming combat force and rapidity of action. The
tactics of the Redford government as seen this past December are the
polar opposite of trying to find and come to a new collective agreement
by ensuring a calm atmosphere where all those concerned and their
collectives can consciously participate and discuss what is going on
with complete information without being bombarded with disinformation,
and within such a situation feel fully involved in taking a decision
and voting on it with a clear conscience.
Through continuing rallies, mass meetings and other
means, health care workers are making it clear that they are not going
to stand for the Redford tactics of shock and awe and will not be
intimidated or silenced. The next two months are crucial for health
care workers. The Legislature begins again on March 3, at which time
the government will open the session with a Speech from the Throne
followed by an anti-social budget and its legislated austerity agenda
to attack workers and the public interest. The time is now for health
care workers to strengthen their collective ranks and determination to
defend their rights from this intransigent retrogressive government.
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Website: www.cpcml.ca Email: email@example.com