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April 7, 2014 - No. 38

Abolish the Temporary Foreign Workers Program!
Our Future and Security Lie in the Fight for the Rights of All!

Defeat Harper's Anti-Social
Low Wage Agenda!


Abolish the Temporary Foreign Workers Program!
Our Future and Security Lie in the Fight for the Rights of All!

Defeat Harper's Anti-Social Low Wage Agenda!
Disinformation About "Labour Shortages" in Canada Exposed - Peggy Morton 
Another Research Study Debunks Harper's So-Called Labour Shortage - Dougal MacDonald 

Defend the Pensions We Have! Fight for Pensions for All!
Canadian Union of Public Employees Alberta Resolves to Step Up Pension Fight

Fight for the Dignity of Labour!
Arbitration Panel Rules Against Random Drug Testing at Suncor - Peggy Askin


Abolish the Temporary Foreign Workers Program!
Our Future and Security Lie in the Fight for the Rights of All!

Defeat Harper's Anti-Social Low Wage Agenda!

Contrary to facts, the Harper government says a shortage of workers to fill available jobs is a major national problem requiring radical anti-social and anti-worker actions. The government denies the reality of more than 1.2 million unemployed as a major national problem that must be addressed immediately. Instead, the government uses its fictional shortage of unemployed workers to justify both the Temporary Foreign Workers Program (TFWP) and attacks on unemployed Canadians and their right to EI benefits. Both are key parts of Harper's anti-social low wage agenda.

The privately-owned monopolies that dominate the economy demand a labour market with a large permanent pool of unemployed workers. They see insecurity of employment and livelihood not as a problem demanding a solution but as something essential to the functioning of the economic system, which they dominate. The TFWP is part of this anti-social agenda putting downward pressure on workers' wages, benefits, pensions and working conditions.

The bogus claims of a labour shortage and the equally absurd defense that no one really knows what is going on in the labour market are designed to cover up the reality that mass unemployment is an endemic problem that can only be tackled by restricting monopoly right and enforcing a pro-social agenda to guarantee the rights of all.

The TFWP relies on desperate unemployed workers globally, and parasites that engage in worker trafficking similar to the slave traders of an earlier era. The anti-social program must be abolished and replaced with an immigration policy serving the public interest and upholding the rights of immigrants. Unemployment must be challenged with radical measures to restrict monopoly right to reduce unemployment and gradually eliminate it altogether, as part of a new direction for the economy and country that guarantees the rights, security and well-being of all Canadians.

Defeat Harper's Anti-Social Low Wage Agenda!
Abolish the Temporary Foreign Workers Program Now!

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Disinformation about "Labour Shortages"
in Canada Exposed

The Edmonton rally organized by Canadians Against the Temporary Foreign Workers Program on March 29 brought to the fore the reality that the Temporary Foreign Workers Program (TFWP) has nothing to do with filling "labour shortages" and everything to do with Harper's anti-social low wage agenda.

Gil McGowan, President of the Alberta Federation of Labour told the rally that the Harper government's claim of a labour shortage is being debunked far and wide. Statistics Canada reports that the number of vacant jobs in Canada is shrinking yet the number of Canadians seeking employment remains high. Statscan writes, "Canadian businesses reported 200,000 job vacancies in December, down 21,000 compared with 12 months earlier. There were 6.3 unemployed people for every job vacancy, up from 5.7 in December 2012. The increase in the unemployment-to-job vacancies ratio was the result of fewer job vacancies, as the number of unemployed people was little changed." Statscan further reports that only 1.3 per cent of jobs in Canada were not filled last December, down from 1.5 per cent the previous year and over 1.2 million Canadians are unemployed and looking for work.

In his speech, Gil McGowan referred to reports from the corporate world including economists at the TD and BMO banks, the Conference Board of Canada and even the Fraser Institute, which conclude that the TFWP is driving down wages. Those bodies conclude as well that the number of job vacancies is decreasing, not increasing. In addition, published reports from the Parliamentary Budget Office show that the Harper government's claims about a growing labour shortage have no basis in fact.[1]

The conclusions, McGowan said, were that the program is being used by employers to drive down wages, exploit foreign workers, displace Canadians, and allow employers who are crying about a labour shortage to avoid training more skilled workers.

Despite all the findings of a surfeit of employable Canadians compared to job vacancies, McGowan said the Harper government when confronted in Parliament still claims its conclusions of a labour shortage are based on solid evidence. Former Finance Minister Jim Flaherty released a 54-page Jobs Report with the February budget, which claimed that the job vacancy rate in Canada has been "increasing steadily since 2009."

Why is there such a discrepancy between what the Harper government says and the findings of others? It turns out that the Finance Canada report is pure junk, arrived at by adding in online job posting data compiled by a company called Wanted Analytics, which used Kijiji and other on-line job postings as its source. Take out Kijiji from the mix, and the Harper government's "growing labour shortage" disappears.

Caught in the act, Jason Kenney, Minister of Employment, Social Development & Multiculturalism, shrugged his shoulders, telling Parliament, "None of us know exactly what is going on in the labour market of today." Kenney's attempt to impose irrationality is not going to convince anyone. More than 1.2 million Canadians are unemployed and actively looking for work. Many more workers are no longer counted in the ranks of the unemployed, for example those forced into early retirement and those working part-time yet wanting and needing full-time work.

The labour force participation rate hit a 12-year low in February 2014, at 66.2 per cent, a rate attributed to both increasing numbers of retired workers but also unemployed workers who have given up looking for work. Canadians wants real solutions to end this brutal reality of poverty, unemployment and insecurity. The people do not want attacks on their rights and the rights of foreign workers.

Abolish the Temporary Foreign Workers Program Now!
Our Future and Security Lie in the Fight for the Rights of All!

Note

1. See: TML Daily April 3, 2014 - No. 36, "Parliamentary Budget Officer's Report Confirms Labour Shortage a Myth")

(Statistics Canada: "Job vacancies, three-month average ending in December 2013")

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Another Research Study Debunks Harper's
So-Called Labour Shortage

Another solid research study has debunked the Harper dictatorship's labour shortage justification for the federal government's massive expansion of the Temporary Foreign Workers Program in the service of the monopolies. An exhaustive study headed by the University of Lethbridge's Dr. Susan McDaniel clearly shows, "There is no evidence of a national labour shortage at present or into the foreseeable future, and, furthermore, there are large groups of underutilized populations who could join the workforce or be more fully employed."

Dr. McDaniel, who is Canada Research Chair in Global Population and Life Course as well as the Prentice Research Chair in Global Population and Economy, concludes, "There are skills shortages in some industries and regions, but the literature points to a mismatch of skills rather than a shortage. Reviewed research confirms that hiring difficulties that some employers have are due to normal cycles of the labour market for their specific industry and not a national skilled labour shortage."

The team of investigators consisted of researchers with collective expertise in demographic change, immigration and skills development from three of Alberta's major universities -- University of Lethbridge, University of Alberta and University of Calgary. The research team "distilled 219 peer-reviewed articles and reports dating from 2000 to 2013 for inclusion in the study. The articles focused on: gaps in labour/skills demand and supply, aging workforce, employment patterns of aging Canadians, the role of immigration and shifting immigration policies and the role of shifting skills development."

The study "identified large groups of populations, such as youth, Aboriginals, disabled persons and unemployed older workers, who are being underutilized in the workforce. As well, highly skilled immigrants are being severely underutilized in their fields of expertise due to unrecognized experience and credentials." The study also notes that temporary foreign workers "support the Canadian economy in lower paying jobs, particularly in the hospitality, food and beverage industries, as well as in higher paying jobs. However they do not receive the same levels of employment security, equity and supports that Canadian employees in the same roles do."

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Defend the Pensions We Have! Fight for Pensions for All!

Canadian Union of Public Employees Alberta Resolves to Step Up Pension Fight

The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) -- Alberta Division held its annual convention in Medicine Hat from March 26-28. Stepping up the pension fight was a major agenda item for the Convention.

CUPE Alberta President Marle Roberts reported on the many actions taken to date to oppose the pension plans changes. CUPE members travelled to Edmonton from all parts of the province to take part in the March 2 rally organized by the Labour Coalition on Pensions. CUPE is carrying out a province-wide campaign that includes radio ads and other presentations, a town hall tour in nine cities across the province, and a coordinated MLA lobby campaign.


CUPE members among those in action to defend public sector  pensions, March 20, 2014.

Roberts raised as a critical problem the arbitrary power given to the Finance Minister over the Alberta public sector pension plans. Under current legislation, the Minister can make changes to pension plans upon a recommendation from the advisory board governing the pension.This means the government does not have to negotiate with the unions, which represent the workers, but still cannot make changes to the pension plans without the approval of the pension boards. Roberts pointed out that none of the public sector boards has authorized the changes that the Alberta government has declared it will legislate. This means the government has not been able to meet the threshold of the current legislation.

Faced with this situation, Finance Minister Doug Horner has decided to rewrite the legislation giving the executive arbitrary powers to impose changes on the pension boards. The government has declared its intention to introduce new legislation giving the executive the power to dictate changes to the pension plan without the approval of either the boards or the "stakeholders" -- the unions and municipal, health and college management representatives.

The government refuses to engage in discussion, much less negotiations. The Minister has not even replied to the Labour Coalition on Pensions who challenged the Minister to produce evidence to support his allegations that the pension plans are not sustainable. The government allegations run counter to the independent actuarial analysis obtained by the Coalition. The government has not provided one shred of evidence to support its proposed retrogressive changes.

"We can fight back and make the Conservatives reverse course," Roberts said. "We need individual locals and individual members to amplify our voices and make Conservative MLAs feel the pressure." She called on individual locals to continue to organize actions and demonstrations in their communities and keep up the pressure on MLAs.

CUPE will also continue to organize for expansion of the Canada Pension Plan as proposed by the Canadian Labour Congress, and to uphold the right to pensions for all.

Alberta workers have put the question loud and clear -- just who do these Tories in office think they are and why do they think they can rule like feudal overlords, using dictate and where necessary force and violence against the workers. Such thinking and practice comes from the time of aristocratic rule. It has no place in modern society and shows that these parties such as the PCs and Wildrose are well past their expiry date and not fit to govern. The Workers' Opposition upholds the principle that the aim of a modern economy is to ensure that the actual producers participate in all aspects of economic and political life according to their ability, and in exchange for their work, live in dignity from birth to passing away.

Security in retirement requires defined benefit pensions and modern seniors' homes and care facilities as a right. Pensions must be provided as a universal social program similar to universal health care delivered by government and funded in exchange for the value workers bring to the socialized economy and produce and reproduce during their working lives. Just as Canadians defend with passion the universal public health care they have and fight for its expansion, so to Canadians defend the defined benefit pensions they have and fight for pensions and security in retirement for all!

For Your Information
Restrictions on Arbitrary Executive Authority in the
Public Sector Pensions Plan Act

The current Public Sector Pension Plans Act, Chapter P-41, "Local Authorities Pension Plan Rules" restricts the executive (cabinet) with regard to changes to the Local Authorities Pension Plan (LAPP). The LAPP is the pension plan covering health care, municipal, school board and college and university workers in Alberta. The executive cannot make arbitrary changes to any aspect of the plan, but must first seek and obtain approval of the plan's Board.

The Board is composed of union representatives, representatives of the employers' association and a representative of the Alberta government.

The LAPP rules state:

"4(1) The Lieutenant Governor in Council shall by regulation establish those plan provisions that are to be included in the Plan from the time of its continuation by this Schedule and that are not fully provided for in this Schedule, including plan provisions respecting

(a) participation,

(b) contributions,

(c) pensionable service,

(d) benefits, including suspensions of pensions and adjustments to pensions relating to the cost of living,

(e) the allowing and charging of interest,

(f) reciprocal agreements, other than affecting another pension plan established or continued by Alberta legislation,

(g) beneficiaries, and

(h) the bases for actuarial adjustments.

(2) Notwithstanding any other law, the Lieutenant Governor in Council may amend or repeal and replace existing plan rules only on the Board's recommendation. [TML emphasis]

(3) Where the Lieutenant Governor in Council makes any plan rules under subsection (2) that result in an improvement in benefits, the Board shall, if necessary, make adjustments to contribution rates that meet the requirements of section 5(2).

(4) Where a recommendation made under subsection (2) would, if adopted, have the effect of changing any of the Plan's benefits,

(a) the recommendation must be approved by the Board in the manner prescribed, and

(b) the Board shall advise the Minister of the impact of the proposed change on the Plan's funded status, solvency deficiencies and current service contribution rates.

(5) Notwithstanding anything in this Schedule, the Lieutenant Governor in Council has no authority to make plan rules on a matter respecting which the plan rule-making authority is given by this Schedule to the Board.

(6) The plan rules are subject to the regulations as well as to this Schedule.

(6.1) To the extent, if any, that is prescribed, a provision of the plan rules may be made to apply with effect from a date that is prior to that on which they are filed under the Regulations Act.

(7) To avoid any possible doubt, plan rules are regulations under the Regulations Act."

(RSA 2000 cP 41 Sched. 1 s4;2003 c19 s44)

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Fight to Uphold the Dignity of the Working Class!

Arbitration Panel Rules Against
Random Drug Testing at Suncor

An arbitration panel has ruled that the oil sands monopoly Suncor cannot carry out random drug and alcohol testing of employees at the Suncor site near Fort McMurray, Alberta. Unifor Local 707A has been fighting a legal battle for over a year and a half to stop random drug and alcohol testing of Suncor workers.

Suncor announced in the summer of 2012 that it intended to impose random drug testing. Unifor Local 707A immediately filed a grievance and took their stand to say No! to violating the rights and dignity of the Suncor workers. Local 707A applied for and was granted an injunction on October 12, 2012 blocking Suncor from going ahead with random testing pending the arbitration decision. Suncor appealed, but the injunction was upheld by the Alberta Court of Appeal. The arbitration hearing took place in January 2013 and the decision was released on March 26, 2014.

The panel found that Suncor had not demonstrated a significant problem or safety risk, which would justify this intrusive measure and violation of privacy. Suncor had provided evidence of 14 positive alcohol tests over a nine-year period. The arbitration panel concluded that Suncor had not established its claim of an out-of-control drug culture in the bargaining unit.

Suncor has a health and safety program, but did not provide information to link accident, injury and near miss incidents to drug use. On this basis, the panel concluded that Suncor's proposed random drug testing policy was unreasonable. The arbitrator also ruled that random drug tests violate the privacy rights of workers. The arbitration panel further concluded that the proposed testing using urinalysis does not provide evidence of impairment. It indicates use, but not the quality, quantity or time of use.

The ruling states, "Given this evidentiary limitation, evidence of positive tests, without more, does not allow us to conclude that drug use by Suncor employees in the bargaining unit poses a safety risk of such a magnitude that would justify the imposition of random testing for safety sensitive positions. We find that the evidence tendered, with respect to drug and alcohol security incidents, does not demonstrate a serious drug issue among employees in this bargaining unit."

The decision comes after a ruling in 2013 by the Supreme Court of Canada, which found a random drug testing policy unilaterally imposed by Irving Pulp and Paper to be unreasonable.

Suncor has stated that it will appeal the ruling of the arbitration panel. In an interview with TML published on September 28, 2012, Unifor Local 707A President Roland Lefort said, "Suncor is arguing that it is strictly about safety, that it is basically a deterrent to people using drugs. The union says it is a total breach of privacy, a denial of basic human rights and we are challenging their decision to implement random drug testing. Under the Charter, Canadians have a right to some dignity. If we look at this in terms of society for example and compare it to the ability of the RCMP to demand a breath sample, there has to be cause. The Supreme Court has already made rulings on the issue. The RCMP can pull you over but they cannot demand a sample unless they have cause. That cause could be your behaviour on the road or that there is an open bottle of beer in the back seat, but they have to have cause.

"Random drug testing of workers that have done nothing wrong is a violation of their basic rights. We will work with Suncor to achieve the highest possible levels of workplace safety with education and prevention, not invasive medical procedures."

The fact that the oil sands workers persisted in their fight and were successful in their legal case is an encouragement to all workers who are fighting for dignity and against such violations of their rights and interference with their lives.

For Your Information
2013 Supreme Court Decision on
Workplace Random Drug Testing

The Supreme Court of Canada in CEP Local 30 vs. Irving Pulp and Paper (June 14, 2013) upheld in a 6 to 3 decision, an arbitration board's decision that Irving had not presented evidence of a workplace alcohol or drug abuse problem and therefore the mandatory testing policy was not reasonable.

Irving Pulp and Paper unilaterally introduced a random drug and alcohol testing policy at the Irving Pulp and Paper Mill in 2006. The Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union Local 30, (now Unifor) challenged the policy and the case proceeded through the courts to the Supreme Court of Canada. The Supreme Court found that the policy was not reasonable stating, "The scope of management's unilateral rule-making authority under a collective agreement is that any rule or policy unilaterally imposed by an employer and not subsequently agreed to by the union must be consistent with the collective agreement and be reasonable.

"An employer can impose a rule with disciplinary consequences only if the need for the rule outweighs the harmful impact on employees' privacy rights. This approach has resulted in a consistent arbitral jurisprudence whereby arbitrators have found that when a workplace is dangerous, an employer can test an individual employee if there is reasonable cause to believe that the employee was impaired while on duty, was involved in a workplace accident or incident, or was returning to work after treatment for substance abuse. Unilaterally imposed policy of mandatory random testing for employees in a dangerous workplace has been overwhelmingly rejected by arbitrators as an unjustified affront to the dignity and privacy of employees unless there is evidence of enhanced safety risks, such as evidence of a general problem with substance abuse in the workplace. The dangerousness of a workplace is clearly relevant, but this does not shut down the inquiry, it begins the proportionality exercise. It has never been found to be an automatic justification for the unilateral imposition of unfettered random testing with disciplinary consequences."

Three justices dissented saying that the arbitration board elevated the threshold of evidence that Irving was required to give to justify its random alcohol testing policy and offered no reason for doing so. The dissenting judges argued that the board required evidence of a serious problem or a significant problem at the Irving Mill when the consensus of arbitrators is that only evidence of a problem is required.

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