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March 10, 2014 - No. 25

Our Future Lies in the Fight for the Rights of All!

Alberta Workers Rally to
Oppose Anti-Worker Temporary Foreign Workers Program

Rally Against the Temporary Foreign Workers' Program, Alberta Legislature, March 3, 2014.

Our Future Lies in the Fight for the Rights of All!
Alberta Workers Rally to Oppose Anti-Worker Temporary Foreign Workers Program
Edmonton Stand Up for Pensions Rally: What the Workers Had to Say

Stop Paying the Rich! Increase Funding for Social Programs!
Alberta Seniors Task Force Calls for Comprehensive Universal Pharmacare
- Peggy Morton 

Premier Redford's Trade Mission to India in Service of Private Monopolies
- Rita Soto

Our Future Lies in the Fight for the Rights of All!

Alberta Workers Rally to Oppose Anti-Worker
Temporary Foreign Workers Program

More than 100 building trades workers and their allies rallied at the Alberta Legislature on March 3, the first day of the Legislature's spring session. They came to oppose worker trafficking carried out under the Temporary Foreign Workers' Program (TFWP).

The rally was organized by building trades workers to demand that the Harper government stop using the TFWP to provide employers with cheap labour, and that the Redford government stop supporting this anti-worker program. The TFWP is not about filling labour shortages but about driving down wages, degrading working conditions and abusing temporary foreign workers, the workers said.

Bricklayer Brian O'Donnell, one of the workers who organized the rally proposed that if employers are allowed to hire temporary foreign workers, they should have to pay the highest going wage for that trade. Many employers using the TFWP receive tax breaks and actually pay little or no tax, and often do not put back into the society anywhere near what the average Canadian worker puts into this country, he said. He proposed a tax on employers to provide funding for training of Canadians who want to learn a trade or other skills.

O'Donnell provided examples of the fraud being perpetrated by employers. For example, one worker found 200 job postings on Service Canada's website in his trade. But when he contacted the employers, he found no job was available. The employers were only posting jobs on the Service Canada website to fulfill a requirement for an Accelerated Labour Market Opinion (ALMO) to hire temporary foreign workers. In this situation, unemployed workers, who must prove they are actively seeking work to receive EI, are at risk of losing EI benefits for jobs that are not even real, he said. These companies are not being held accountable, and no one is verifying that they have been unable to hire Canadian workers before an ALMO is approved, O'Donnell said.

O'Donnell stated that as a bricklayer he had learned his trade from skilled craftsmen who had immigrated into Canada from Italy. Now instead of immigration, the TFWP is being used to allow employers to exploit workers from all over the world and drive down wages and working conditions in Canada. This has to stop.

Gil McGowan, President of the Alberta Federation of Labour said, "Hats off to the Ironworkers!" for exposing how the TFWP is being used to drive down wages. Governments are not representing the public interest, but the interests of their friends the employers, he said. These employers are staffing projects, especially in the oil sands, with increasing numbers of temporary foreign workers. Temporary foreign workers are being lied to, promised high wages and the chance to become Canadian citizens. Instead, they are paid less than prevailing rates, used as pawns to drive down wages, denied citizenship and forced to return home after four years.

The claim that the program exists to fill skill shortages or labour shortages is not true, McGowan said. He gave the example of the 65 ironworkers laid off by Pacer Promec Joint Venture in early February. Many of these workers had come from other parts of Canada to find work in Alberta, only to be discarded and replaced with temporary foreign workers by a greedy employer to drive down wages. Both federal and provincial governments are intervening in the labour market to impose their cheap labour policy. McGowan asked workers to document all the examples of how employers are using the TFWP so as to show that the problem is not isolated abuse, but endemic and built into the program. This program cannot be reformed, it must be scrapped in its entirety, he said.

Rachel Notley, NDP member for Edmonton Strathcona pointed out that the Chrétien Liberals were those who dramatically ramped up the TFWP. The Harper government then further expanded the program, which is designed to drive down wages, she said.

Lori McDaniel, a worker at Suncor and UNIFOR Local 707A health and safety representative called on everyone to go all out to defeat the Conservatives in the by-election in Ft. McMurray-Athabasca and send a message to Harper that the TFWP has to go. McDaniel is the NDP candidate in the upcoming by-election.

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Edmonton Stand Up for Pensions Rally:
What the Workers Had to Say

Posted below are the views of Alberta workers who spoke with TML Daily at the Stand Up for Pensions Rally held in Edmonton on March 2, about the significance of the fight to defend Alberta's public sector pensions. (For previous coverage of the rally see TML Daily, March 5, 2014 - No. 23.)

Cathy Bell, Professional Staff,
Calgary Board of Education (CBE) Staff Association

I think it is a very important issue and that we all need to stand up and tell the government that we don't agree with their dictatorship. If we don't do that then we have no basis to complain in my view.

Cheryl Ham, Professional Support Services, CBE Staff Association

I think it is important that the government see how important this is to the members of the pension plans and that we have to take a stand. We have a right to our pensions. What we signed up for, we get. When I signed on with the school board years and years ago, the pension was a big reason I chose to work there. I am vested in now. I am not making different plans. I don't have time to make different plans. These proposed changes are affecting my future.

Bob, Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE)

The cap on the pensions is going to be a problem. They can say what they want about defined benefit pensions prior to 2016 being safe, but the Finance Minister is on record speaking to Elisabeth Ballermann, the President of the Health Sciences Association of Alberta, saying that he cannot guarantee that the rate cap will not mean that benefits will be reduced in the future for current retirees as well as people who haven't retired but still have those benefits prior to 2016. That being the case, if there is a meltdown in the market, the rate cap is low, and the pension fund does not have the ability to respond adequately to that, there is not going to be enough funds to adequately pay the benefits. So what are they going to do? Say they have to cut benefits across the board for everyone. The question is: will that be five per cent? 25 per cent? Will it happen multiple times?

Some of us are being put in the position of being forced to retire early to safeguard our pension. That is not a good situation. Young workers I have spoken to are considering leaving if the pension changes go through. A large number of workers may leave the public sector because of these changes and that will affect the quality of services provided. It is not an acceptable situation.

Dawn Lavigne, Transit Operator,
Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 583

I am at this rally because I still have quite a few years left and I am fighting for my future and I want to set myself up so I can live with some dignity in my retirement. We deserve that and that is why I am here today.

John Daly, Transit Operator, ATU Local 583

I am here to support the workers in the unions who are going to be directly affected by these changes now. The fear is that these changes will trickle down to workers in other unions such as ATU. Myself, I probably have 25 years of service left to go. If these changes do trickle down to workers in our union, it will have serious consequences. Senior people will probably leave. It will force a lot of attrition, and force a lot of overtime for the younger workers. They may use the extra costs as an excuse to claw back wages or refuse raises to cover inflation. For myself with a family of five, that is a huge concern in both the short term and the long term.

Allen Offredy, Hospital Worker, AUPE

When I was 20, I was told to find a job with a good pension plan. Now I am getting close to retirement and they are changing the rules. That really aggravates me. I have been shuffled around by Ralph Klein's cuts in the 1990s and had many friends whose lives were destroyed because of those cuts. I was lucky to survive that, but now I am getting close to retirement and they are kicking me again. I am here today because I have pretty much had it. We need more people involved in this fight because for the young people there is not going to be a future the way the government is cutting everything. We need to fight now for our pensions or we could end up using social services and that is not acceptable.

Robert, Calgary Public School Board Worker,
Canadian Union of Public Employees

I am here today because I have kids and grandkids and their lives could be very much damaged by what is coming about here. This is not affecting me as much as it will affect my sons, daughters, and grandchildren. If these changes go through, they could be suffering for a long time. These cuts to pensions are not going to help Canada. Everything is being done behind closed doors. The governments push things through and force workers to go out in sub-zero weather to fight for what belongs to them. We have corrupt governments. Period!

Doug, Transit Worker, Boise, Idaho, U.S.A.

I am with ATU Local 398. I am up here visiting a friend of mine and I came today because we are also having problems with our pensions in the United States. They are trying to take stuff away. I live in a "right to work" state. They are not union friendly. I will be doing activist training next month and will speak about my direct experience here, where so many unions are getting together to defend pensions.

Stand Up For Your Pension Rally, Sir Winston Churchill Square, Edmonton, March 2, 2014.

Michelle, Transit Operator, ATU Local 583

I am here today because even though these changes are not affecting our pensions now, the government is chipping away at the right to secure pensions for everyone. By participating now, even though it is not hitting us yet, we are supporting those affected and learning how to fight together to benefit everyone in the long run.

Diane, AUPE Local 45

I went to my first rally at the legislature during the AUPE convention in October. That rally was to defend public services and the fight for our pensions is part of this fight. If the government can topple the large unions on the issue of our pensions, they will go after smaller unions and this will also provide further incentive for the attacks on all pensions, public and private. There will be a snowball effect that will affect the generations to come. We have to stop it.

Alex Shevalier, President, Calgary and District Labour Council

I think it's important to rally today because the provincial government is taking a wrong approach. If there is a problem, they have to demonstrate that there is a problem. So far, they have not been able to demonstrate that the Local Authorities Pension Plan is in any sort of trouble or that there is any fiscal imperative to this. The process they are using is simply a cudgel to achieve what they want to accomplish. They have a collective bargaining process and they have chosen to ignore this. If they had brought this to the table, they could have negotiated through this process but instead they are using a legislative cudgel instead of a collective agreement approach. They are using every lever of power that they can rather than using negotiations.

Susan Clarke, Nurse, United Nurses of Alberta, Lethbridge

I came into nursing late in life as a second career. One of the things I was looking forward to was a decent pension. I knew the pension had the "85 factor" and with my age that was important. When I looked at the potential cuts they are making to our pension and calculated what my pension would be before and after these cuts, it cut my pension in half. That is huge. I know that if these cuts are implemented, it is paving the way for the future because whatever they get away with now, we will never get it back. We need to stop them from making these cuts and make sure they are aware that people will not tolerate what they are doing.

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Stop Paying the Rich! Increase Funding for Social Programs!

Alberta Seniors Task Force Calls for
Comprehensive Universal Pharmacare

The hard work and organizing carried out by seniors' organizations have forced the Redford government to delay its plans to impose an income-based drug plan for seniors. A group of 13 representatives from Public Interest Alberta's Seniors Task Force, met with Health Minister Fred Horne following a sit-in at his constituency office. The Task Force had been trying to set up a meeting for months without success. Broad support for the seniors following their action resulted in a hasty turnaround by the health minister, who claimed it was all a misunderstanding.

Seniors Occupy office of Health Minister
 Fred Horne, January 16. (PIA)

The Seniors Task Force reports, "We met with Health Minister Fred Horne on February 13th regarding his proposed cut to universal drug coverage for seniors. Minister Horne did, however, assure us that no change would occur to the current Seniors Drug Plan without further consultation, probably this summer, and that there would be no reference to such change in the 2014/15 provincial budget."

The Seniors Task Force also told Horne that the government should issue a paper explaining exactly what changes it is planning, but the health minister did not agree to do so.

Seniors and their organizations are actively presenting and discussing their own pharmacare plan based on the principle of universality and the elimination of user fees. User fees are unacceptable as they make health care conditional on ability to pay. The seniors are advocating for a pharmacare plan fully integrated into the provincial health care system, as an alternative to the income-based plan proposed in the government's last budget. They stress that income is not an acceptable basis for determining access to medication. They also point out that the $180 million cut to funding announced in the 2013-2014 budget for the seniors' drug plan would result in a huge transfer of costs onto people who are sick and have a high need for prescription drugs.

The Seniors Task Force says, "While the Minister agreed that a universal, National Pharmaceutical Strategy, as proposed by the First Ministers in 2004, was the ideal solution, he contended that it was not attainable without federal support, which was not forthcoming. In response, we pointed out that the Canada Health Act did not start as a federal initiative; it started from the vision displayed in the province of Saskatchewan."

Further, it was pointed out that considerable savings can be realized when a single-payer health care system becomes a single-purchaser of prescription drugs, and that Alberta is benefiting from recent changes in federal transfer payments.

Under the current drug plan, most seniors pay 30 per cent of the cost of each prescription, to a maximum of $25, regardless of income. In most cases, this means the user fee must be paid for each drug at least once in three months, but seniors often have to pay the user fee more frequently.

In the 2013-14 provincial budget, the Redford government announced that it would rob the seniors' drug plan of $180 million, effective January 2014. Funding for the seniors' drug program was $566 million in 2010-11, the last year for which the government has provided information. This means that the cut announced at that time was more than 30 per cent. When inflation and population growth are considered, the cut per capita would be even larger.

Contrary to her government's attacks on the seniors' drug program, one month before she won the leadership of the PC Party, Alison Redford wrote a letter that repudiated then Health Minister Ron Liepert's pharmaceutical strategy to eliminate universality. Redford gave an undertaking to retain the current universal Seniors Drug Plan. She noted "that income-based supports are poor repayment for the efforts of Alberta seniors." Health Minister Fred Horne wrote a letter one month before the last provincial election stating, "The government has no intention to change the current Seniors Drug Plan and, in fact, plans to enhance it."

This government saying one thing and doing another has people on guard. Seniors' organizations and their allies remain vigilant and will continue to defend their current drug program and fight for a universal pharmacare program without user fees. They are determined to hold the government to account and to continue to fight for pharmacare provided as a right, not based on ability to pay.

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Alberta Premier's Trade Mission to India in Service of Private Monopolies

Further evidence that private monopoly interests have seized control of the public authority could be seen in Premier Alison Redford's agenda during the month of January. From January 8 to 19, Redford led a trade mission to India to attend the Petrotech 2014 oil and gas exhibition. While in India, Redford presided over the opening of a new trade office in New Delhi and met with India's Minister of Petroleum and Natural Gas.

Redford's official statement following meetings in India said discussions focused on "the potential for exports of bitumen directly to India, as well as the potential for Indian companies to become strategic partners in developing Alberta's oilsands, building off the agreement signed between Indian Oil Corporation Limited and the Alberta Petroleum Marketing Corporation last fall. India is an important emerging market and the potential for the country to be a new market for our oil and gas is enormous.

"I was also privileged to open Alberta's new India Trade office in New Delhi, to ensure we have boots on the ground to chase new opportunities and work -- daily -- to build Alberta's presence in this important emerging economy.

"Quite simply, the long-term cost to Alberta of ignoring huge markets like India are incalculable. A key part of our Building Alberta Plan, we will keep working to open new markets around the world for our resources to ensure Albertans get the fairest price possible for the resources we own."

Redford spends most of her time acting in her capacity as salesperson for the energy monopolies. She now defines this as her "mandate." In the statement issued on her trade mission to India, Redford said, "Our government was elected on a mandate to build new markets for our resources, and ensure Alberta remains Canada's economic engine." In making this her mandate, Redford is following in the footsteps of Peter Lougheed, the first premier openly to declare his role as salesman for the Alberta-based energy monopolies.

Redford's statement is an admission that her "mandate" comes from the oil and gas monopolies, since the working people of Alberta overwhelmingly oppose the export of bitumen. Neither the people of Alberta nor the First Nations have given their consent to a four-fold increase in bitumen extraction. This increase would take place if projects currently approved, applied for and announced were added to those already operating and under construction.

Following her trip to India, Redford was off to the World Economic Forum in Davos to address the global rich elite where she made much of the "special invitation" for her to attend an "intimate panel" on the future of climate regulatory mechanisms and their impact on business.

The workers' opposition and First Nations do not accept that no alternative exists to an economy based on ever-increasing extraction of raw resources for export. Nor do they accept the anti-social agenda of austerity to pay the rich. An alternative agenda is possible but because it does not serve the narrow interests of the energy cartels, its existence is denied.

The working class and First Nations are capable of thinking for themselves and mapping out an alternative agenda and new direction for the economy based on the affirmation of their rights and the public interest. The first step in a new direction for the economy means opposing monopoly right and upholding public right. It means depriving the private monopolies of their power to deprive the people of their empowerment and rights. It means reversing privatization and the sellout of public resources and assets, the wrecking of public services and the ripping and shipping of raw resources. It involves a vibrant development of public services and enterprise, of diverse manufacturing and agriculture to serve the well-being of the people and assure their security and the sustainability of the socialised economy.

The alternative can be developed based on affirming rights as inviolable and guaranteeing First Nations and the working class a say and control over everything that affects their lives. In opposition to Harper, Redford and all other politicians who slavishly serve the rich and their monopolies and act as their salespeople and gatekeepers of wealth and power, the way forward is towards empowerment of the people, towards people's politicians who faithfully serve the public interest and fight for the people's control over the economic and political affairs of Alberta and Canada.

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