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
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
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
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,
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
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.
Posted below are the views of Alberta workers who spoke
with TML Daily at the Stand
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
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
Dawn Lavigne, Transit Operator,
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
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,
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.
Stop Paying the Rich!
Increase Funding for Social Programs!
Alberta Seniors Task Force Calls for
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Alberta Premier's Trade Mission to India in Service of
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
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
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
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
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.