February 6, 2014 - No. 10
Harper Government Announces
Anti-Strike Legislation at CN Rail
Oppose the Criminalization of
• Oppose the Criminalization of Railway Workers!
Fight to Keep the Post
• The Difference Between Two Slogans Which
Ostensibly Say the Same Thing
- Louis Lang
Defend the Pensions We
Have! Fight for Pensions for All!
• New Brunswick Government Attacking Public
• Quebec Government Going Further in
Anti-Labour Restructuring of Defined-Benefits Pension Plans
Harper Government Announces Anti-Strike
Legislation at CN Rail
Oppose the Criminalization of Railway Workers!
On February 5, anti-Labour Minister Kellie Leitch
announced that her government would table the following morning
back-to-work legislation making illegal a strike by 3,000 CN Rail
conductors, trainmen and traffic coordinators. These workers are
members of the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference. On February
4, the union sent a strike notice which meant that the workers could
have legally gone on strike February 8. The tabling of the back-to-work
legislation has been cancelled for the moment with the signing of a
tentative agreement between CN Rail and the Teamsters Union on the
evening of February 5. Minister Leitch
is now taking credit for having "assisted" the negotiations with the
threat of back-to-work legislation. In January, the workers rejected a
tentative agreement reached in the fall between CN and the union, over
issues that affect their health and safety, which are key in protecting
the health and safety of the public.
With this new threat of
back-to-work legislation against the CN workers, the Harper government
continues to criminalize workers' struggles in defence of their rights.
continues to equate the private interests of the monopolies with the
national interest and declares railways and airlines essential services
workers' stands to defend their rights are illegal. This does not mean
that the government is making sure that airlines and railways are run
according to the highest standards including safety standards, as the
recent railway disasters amply and tragically prove. It means that the
private interests of the railway and airline
monopolies are being declared the national interest, which is part and
parcel of politicizing private interests, something which holds great
the workers and Canadians. To table such legislation at a time when
Canadians are demanding action to protect the safety and security of
the workers and people in the wake of the
railway tragedies shows the criminality of this government, as well as
the criminality of the anti-social offensive of the rich and the
governments in their service.
The demands of the workers in negotiations and -- as far
as details have been revealed -- their rejection of the previous
tentative agreement are on the issue of health and safety. This is
specifically their inadequate rest periods and the extreme fatigue they
experience, especially with the responsibility that falls
on them with the drastic increase in the transportation of hazardous
materials. Minister Leitch is only too happy to boast that her threat
was instrumental in bringing the two parties together, but what is she
going to say if workers face further tragedies in which their extreme
fatigue and lack of proper rest periods
play a role? She and her government are on record for not caring even a
bit about the workers' well-being and the concerns they are conveying
with their demands. Are the railway workers going to be able to
consider the new tentative agreement with peace of mind when the issues
at stake are so serious and with
back-to-work legislation hanging over their heads?
TML Daily again vehemently denounces this
inhumane and callous government and firmly supports the CN and other
front line transportation workers whose fight to defend their own
well-being is important in defending the well-being of all. TML
calls upon all workers to step up their
struggle to force this government out of office as soon as possible.
Fight to Keep the Post Office Public
The Difference Between Two Slogans
Which Ostensibly Say the Same Thing
Actions this January in
Calgary (left) and Hamilton.
At a time when the Harper government is pursuing a
policy of destroying public assets and is doing everything in its power
to hand over all profitable public services to the private sector, how
the workers provide themselves with orientation to defend their rights
and the interest of society is of great significance.
In this regard, the slogans the workers put forward must have a cutting
edge which advances their fight to defend public right and the rights
of workers to proper wages and working conditions. Let us look at the
two slogans "Save the Public Post Office" and "Save Canada Post." They
seem to say the same thing
but in fact are quite different. The most significant difference
between the two becomes clear when we go deeper into the two very
different agendas which are being presented for the post office -- one
by Canada Post and the government of Canada and the other by the postal
workers and people of Canada. In this
context "Save Canada Post" or "Save the Public Post Office," take two
very different directions.
Postal workers know from years of experience in the
struggle for their rights that every demand for concessions and
roll-backs, every step towards further privatization and deregulation
of postal services has been done on the basis of the perverse logic
that to save the corporation it was necessary to attack the
workers' livelihood and security.
In the last round of negotiations in 2010, Canada Post's
theme for negotiations was, "Some things have to change so others
don't." In their document "Opening Comments and Proposals" in October
2010, the corporation stated, "the individual security of each and
every one of our employees is intimately tied
to the success of the company."
This was a clear threat that the workers must accept a
two-tier wage system, loss of sick-leave benefits and the gutting of
the contract or even more would be lost. The corporation's theme was
intended to impose their agenda on the negotiations process that
"protecting the financial viability of the Corporation,"
was a shared responsibility with the union.
Signs and slogans seen
during the 2010 round of negotiations with Canada Post.
Postal workers rejected this vicious attack of the
corporation and after negotiations broke down prepared to organize
rotating strikes across the country. Workers insisted that they gave
rise to their defence organization not to "protect the financial
viability of the Corporation," but to fight for their rights as
Workers also pointed out that "financial viability" was a bogus issue.
For the past ten years Canada Post has not only made profits each year,
but also handed over hundreds of millions of dollars in dividends to
the government. It was precisely during this period when hundreds of
retail post offices were closed and
the plans for Postal Transformation and more cut-backs in services were
The results of the last round of negotiations are well
known. Canada Post locked out the workers, the Harper government passed
legislation criminalizing the struggle of postal workers and used
blackmail and intimidation until the leadership of the Canadian Union
of Postal Workers agreed to recommend, albeit
reluctantly, that postal workers accept many of the main roll-backs and
concessions originally demanded by the corporation. Ratification
meetings were held across the country, and postal workers voted by a
narrow margin of 57 per cent to accept the contract. Significantly, the
turnout for the vote was one of the lowest
in the union's history. This shows that the workers need an alternative
they can believe in and fight for because, whether or not the union
leadership was convinced that accepting the roll-backs was the only way
to protect the defined-benefit pension plan and "job security," is not
the issue. The facts prove otherwise.
We have seen that the drastic concessions and roll-backs
has not been enough for Canada Post. A few short weeks after the
signing of the contract in December 2012, the corporation announced the
closure of mail processing plants in Windsor, North Bay and other
cities. This was part of their plan to concentrate
mail processing in four main plants across the country resulting in the
loss of thousands of jobs, cut-backs in service and damaging the
economies of many large cities across the country. Canada Post has also
continued to sell postal franchises to Shoppers Drug Mart and other
national retailers with the result that
many of their own Retail Post Offices have been closed down.
Some of the important
demands brought forward by postal workers during the 2011 strike and
all of which continue to
be pressing issues.
Canada Post is also behind the recent speculation about
the financial crisis facing it. Reports like the one by the Conference
Board of Canada and the Fraser Institute are being used to justify
further attacks on the public post office; and the corporation's claims
it cannot wait for the next round of bargaining to
make drastic changes to the pension plan.
This is all part of the drive of the Harper government
for privatization and deregulation. They have fully adopted neo-liberal
globalization and are selling public institutions like the Post Office
and Atomic Energy Canada Limited to the highest bidder and are trying
to hide this truth from postal workers
and all Canadians.
What this shows is that an alternative can only be found
on the basis of the fight of the workers for their rights and the
rights of all.
At this time the workers cannot permit the slogan "Save
Canada Post" to mean that the workers should give up the agenda of
defending the public post office. The slogan "Save Canada Post" must
not be permitted to undermine the struggle of postal workers as it goes
counter to the many years of experience of struggle and their instinct
to wage their struggles based on their own agenda and needs. These have
always been represented by their slogan to "Save the Public Post
Office" and this is what has exposed the government and the managers of
Canada Post who are intent on wrecking the public post office.
Despite how hopeless the
situation is made to look, there is no need to surrender to the demands
of the corporation that "protecting the financial viability of the
Corporation was a shared responsibility with the Union." This is very
damaging to the struggle of all workers who know that our security lies
organized ability to fight for our rights!
The slogan of the government and Canada Post to save the
post office is a ruse to make believe that the solution lies in finding
some compromise at a time the corporations and governments are refusing
to participate in negotiations of any kind. They merely impose their
dictate and through blackmail and extortion they demand that the
workers' organizations accept this, or they resort to government
legislation to impose it. This is what is
happening in all sectors of the economy and it must be brought to an
end. The Corporation must be forced by the workers to negotiate
contracts on the basis of upholding what belongs to the workers and the
public by right -- their wages, working conditions required to do the
job safely and humanely, and the services required by a modern society.
Only the struggle of the workers and
their allies to defend the rights of all Canadians to a public Post
Office will achieve this. It is this struggle which
reveals the fraud in which the management of Canada Post and the
involved and it is only the struggle which can force real problems
to be revealed and provided with solutions. The key to waging this
struggle is to mobilize the most important force, the vast majority of
workers who through the superiority
in numbers and advanced consciousness and organization are capable of
defeating the plans of the Harper government to impose monopoly right.
This fight can provide a new direction for the economy that recognizes
public right. It can be done! It must be done.
The discussion on the significance of the two slogans
"Save the Public Post Office" versus "Save Canada Post" is important to
make the workers conscious that the starting point to defeat the
blackmail and extortion of the corporation is to debunk the neo-liberal
assumptions that concessions will save the post
office. Saving the post office, a public institution based on upholding
the public good, not private interests, is not the motivation of the
plans to establish a privatized Canada Post. Even in the private
corporations the workers face the same fight for their rights.
Concessions are not solutions! Our security lies in the
fight for the rights of all.
Fight for the Public Post Office!
Defend the Pensions We Have! Fight for
Pensions for All!
New Brunswick Government
Attacking Public Sector
Mass demonstration by
more than 2,000 public sector workers and retirees in defence of their
Fredericton, November 6, 2013.
On January 1, Bill 11, An
under the Public Service Superannuation Act,
came into force in New Brunswick. The Act was passed under closure by
the provincial Legislature last December. It repeals the Public
Service Superannuation Act (PSSA)
the defined-benefit pension plan under the PSSA into a shared-risk
plan for public sector employees and public sector retirees. This plan
covers roughly 19,000 public sector employees and 13,000 retirees.
Since that time, the Alward Conservative government announced that it
would convert other public sector pensions
to the so-called shared-risk plan. The passing of the bill was
accompanied by a strident propaganda campaign according to which the
defined-benefit pension plans were unsustainable, the PSSA plan had a
$1 billion deficit and the government coffers, i.e., taxpayers' money,
were being plundered to pay for the pensions
of the public sector workers, etc.
The bill makes major changes
to the pension plan of
these workers. TML recently spoke to Daniel
Légère, General Vice-President of the Canadian Union of
Public Employees-New Brunswick, about them.
"The plan before the legislation was a defined-benefit
plan," he said. "The government moved it to what the province calls a
shared-risk model. I call it a target model pension plan. The reality
is that it is a shifting of risk from the employer, which is the
province in this case, entirely onto the backs of
the plan members. The bill puts a cap on the premiums that the
government would actually pay to the plan. It maxed out what their
contributions would be. It is great for the government; there is no
risk for the government because they know no matter how bad a shape the
plan will be in if we have another economic
crisis, they have a cap on what they are going to put in. What the plan
does in essence, the workers now have to pay more premiums, from 5 per
cent to 7.5 per cent of their salary to the plan. The age of retirement
without a penalty has moved from age 60 to age 65. The
penalty has also increased from 3 per
cent to 5 per cent a year if workers retire before 65. Workers have to
work longer and they have to pay more if they retire earlier. And
because it is a target plan and not a defined-benefit plan, there is no
guarantee of what your actual pension will be. The plan will only
guarantee indexing of the retirees' benefits
if the plan can afford it. If we have a downturn in the economy, all
bets are off, there is no guarantee of indexing."
There were many demonstrations of active and retired
2013 against the changes to the pension plan. The retirees in
particular have been very vocal against the New Brunswick government's
breach of trust and its contract with them. They recalled that when
they joined the pension plan under the
PSSA, there was a contractual obligation recognized by the government
according to which they would receive defined retirement benefits fully
indexed to the cost of living. They worked their whole careers under
that contract and this is why in many cases they did not change jobs --
the pension security was the
incentive to stay. The passing of the legislation, they said, broke
In order to try to silence
the retirees, the New
government added a written guarantee to the legislation that the
current retirees' benefits will never decrease. The retirees have not
been deceived by this. They rightly point out that if the government
used legislation to break their contract, they will not
hesitate to do so in the future on the basis of some other exceptional
circumstances. Besides, now that the government has decided by law to
put a cap on the amount of money it is going to put into the fund
regardless of circumstances, it is left to the active workers to
increase their contributions to the plan so as
not to reduce the retirees' benefits should the plan be declared to be
in a crisis. Under Bill 11, the government will no longer be the plan
administrator. The converted plan will now be administered as a joint
trusteeship with a board made up of representatives from both the
employer and the public sector unions.
The retirees consider this move a way for the government to shift its
responsibilities to others, putting pressure on the unions to increase
the workers' contributions or allow the retirees' benefits to decrease.
The Pension Coalition New Brunswick announced that
despite the bill
coming into force, the fight carries on. It is looking into the
possibility of a legal challenge on the constitutionality of Bill 11
and pledges to be active in organizing the defeat of the Alward
Conservatives in the next provincial election this
Meanwhile, the Alward government has announced that it
to convert the defined-benefit pension plans of other public sector
workers into the so-called shared-risk model.
The shared-risk pension model was itself enshrined in
law in New
Brunswick. in 2012. The PSSA is the ninth pension plan in the province
to adopt this model.
Quebec Government Going Further in Anti-Labour
Restructuring of Defined-Benefits Pension Plans
The Quebec government held three forums the week of
January 21 as
part of its action plan for what it calls the restructuring of
defined-benefit pension plans. The forums brought together business and
labour representatives from three sectors -- municipalities, academia
and the private sector -- with one forum per sector.
The action plan, published in December 2013, is
fair and sustainable pensions" and provides a two-year process to
restructure defined-benefit pension plans with the stated aim of
eliminating deficits which, according to the government, threaten the
plans. The government states that it is through the involvement of the
through negotiations, that the issue will be resolved. It plans to
adopt no less than two laws which would set conditions currently signed
at the negotiating table such as the percentage of employer/worker
contributions to pension funds.
The Minister of Labour and Employment Agnès
Maltais described the
forums as a success on the road to negotiations between the parties on
pension plans for which there is consensus in Quebec.
"Firstly, everyone agrees, there is a consensus [on the
negotiations must take priority, negotiations should prevail. Secondly,
the government will introduce the legislation quickly, we're talking
February," said the minister.
According to the government, the consensus is based on
recognition that defined-benefit pension plans are in crisis. In the
government's action plan, Minister Maltais also said that there is
consensus in Quebec that pension plans are in financial trouble and
that the "status quo is not an option." It gives as evidence the huge
reported by many of these plans. These deficits are actuarial
projections of future performance of the pension plans. The media
spreads the most alarming figures on these projected deficits
especially regarding pensions in the municipal sector, which we are
told would be about $5 billion.
The government does not plan to challenge or verify the
that pensions are in crisis and, if so, why. Instead of seizing the
opportunity to launch a serious and informed public discussion on the
state of these plans and the problems they are facing, the Quebec
government bases itself on the premise that the plans are in crisis and
workers must pay more in the name of the survival of the plans and the
defence of contributors. The refusal to discuss the state of pensions
permits them, among other things, to avoid examining the role that
employers' contribution holidays have played in the state of pension
plans, the role of the loss of workers' money in speculative ventures
the markets, and the role of the destruction of manufacturing in
lowering the social production which is the source of pensions, and
particularly the proliferation of early retirements. This especially
permits them to avoid taking a principled stand that workers, who
produce the social wealth, goods and services that make society
already financed the pension funds and a portion of the social wealth
must be set aside to guarantee decent pensions for workers and for
everyone. If these and other relevant questions are not subjected to
public discussion, this will all be a manoeuvre to further attack the
right to pensions through anti-labour restructuring.
defend jobs and pensions by Quebec forestry workers. At left,
AbitibiBowater workers in Montreal, May 15, 2009; at right: Fraser
paper workers in Gatineau, January 1, 2010. The forestry monopolies
have worked closely with the Quebec government to attack retirees'
pensions and benefits.
We can already see that the measures in the bills being
the burden of the problems and restructuring on active workers and
retirees. It already seems to be a given that the bill to be presented
in February will make a 50/50 split for worker/employer contributions
mandatory for future public sector plans. This was already part of the
government's December 2013 action plan.
It also seems to be a given that the bill will include
make workers and even retirees bear the brunt of past public pension
plan deficits. According to the minister, "I said that if it was
necessary, and this is important, if the negotiation results in the
fact that in order to sustain a pension plan we must open up the past,
give people the opportunity. We were very clear on that."
The government's bill even considers taking money from
could see their benefits attacked in the name of deficit repayments to
pension plans. At the end of one of the forums, Minister Maltais
expressed her readiness to pass legislation to make this possible: "If
it's the way for the partners to solve their problems, we have a duty
during this exceptional period -- because it will take two years -- to
explore all means." Refusing to take responsibility for the problems
this will cause between unions and retirees, she added that employers
will need to obtain the consent of the unions before going into
pensioners' pockets. "We are in the field of labour relations,
through negotiations." With this bill the government is proposing one
more way to steal money from retirees, then it will say, "You're the
ones who negotiated it."
The references to negotiations that are constantly
coming from the
minister's mouth will, according to the government's plan, look like
this. Following the forum, a period of negotiations between employers
and unions is supposed to start and should last a maximum of six
months. If the parties are unable to reach an agreement, the process
provides for a two-stage mechanism: first, a conciliator will be
appointed by the Ministry of Labour for six months, and then, if
necessary, the Labour Relations Commission will intervene and make the
Quebec working people should reject both the process and
this endeavour. Pensions are a right. The government must recognize
this right and guarantee it in practice.
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