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April 22, 2014 - No. 46

Send a Message to the Alberta Government
No Means No! Hands off Our Pensions

Defend the Pensions We Have --
Fight for Pensions for All!
Withdraw Bills 9 and 10 Now!

 

Workers rally at the Alberta Legislature on opening day to oppose attacks on pensions.

Edmonton
Rally Against Alberta Government's Bill 9, the Public Sector Pension Plans Amendment Act, and Bill 10, the Employment Pension (Private Sector) Plans Amendment Act
Tuesday, April 22 -- 11:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m.

Misericordia Hospital, 16940 87 Ave.
All welcome -- lunch will be provided on the line
Hosted by Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 2111

Send a Message to the Alberta Government
No Means No! Hands off Our Pensions!
No! to Attacks on Public and Private Sector Pensions
Bill 10 Assaults the Right of Private Sector Workers to Defined Benefit Pension Plans - Peggy Morton
How the PCs Plan to Deprive Workers of Their Pensions One Step at a Time
Wildrose Party Piles on Pressure Against Public Sector Workers and Their Pensions

Education Is a Right! Strengthen Public Education for All!
Resist the Inroads in Education of Private Monopoly Interests!

What Is Behind Alberta's Debate on Math Instruction? - Kevan Hunter 

Coming Events
Public Forum on Planned Cuts to Postal Services
April 28 Day of Mourning for Workers Injured or Killed on the Job


Send a Message to the Alberta Government
No Means No! Hands Off Our Pensions!

No! to Attacks on Public and Private Sector Pensions

The Alberta PCs have introduced two bills attacking the right to security in retirement. Bill 9, the Public Sector Pension Plans Amendment Act, 2014 and Bill 10, the Employment Pension (Private Sector) Plans Amendment Act, 2014 were given first reading on April 16 and second reading on April 17.

Workers are demanding that the government withdraw Bills 9 and 10 and stop its attacks on pensions. A noon-hour rally will take place at the Misericordia Hospital on Tuesday April 22 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. hosted by the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 2111. Workers from all the public sector unions and their allies are joining in.

The Labour Coalition on Pensions has given the call to come to the Legislature starting at 3 pm on Wednesday, April 23. Workers and their allies will fill the galleries as debate begins on Bill 9. Everyone is encouraged also to sign up at www.truthaboutalbertapensions.ca to receive an email alert about future actions. The Labour Coalition is calling on everyone to contact their MLAs once again and urge them to vote against the bill. MLAs are receiving a clear message that every MLA who votes for the legislation will be held to account. The Legislature will be sitting from April 22-24, adjourned for a constituency week and then sitting again beginning on May 5.

Bill 9 Assaults the Right of Public Sector Workers
to Security in Retirement

Bill 9 gives the government executive arbitrary powers to limit unilaterally the contributions to the pension plans. Such a cabinet decree could force the pension board to reduce benefits for active and retired workers. Also, the Finance Minister no longer requires consent of the pension boards for changes to benefits accrued after 2016 and can arbitrarily dictate any changes.

The pension boards, which are comprised of employer and employee representatives, have been stripped of their authority. The little control exercised by workers on the boards through their union representatives has been replaced by arbitrary dictate. This would permit the Minister to make the changes, which have already been announced, including forcing workers to work longer before retiring, but also any other changes to weaken security in retirement. The Minister is not limited to the changes that can be dictated for benefits accrued after 2016. The new bill also contains a section exempting the government from any liability for the results of its actions.

Bill 10 Assaults the Right of Private Sector Workers
to Security in Retirement

Bill 10, Employment Pension (Private Sector) Plans Amendment Act, 2014 permits employers to retroactively convert defined benefit pension plans to target pension plans, a type of defined contribution pension plan. This change strips workers with defined benefit plans in the private sector of security in retirement. The government claims that this change must be approved by the plan members while virtually acknowledging that employers will use threats to crater their pension plans entirely if workers do not agree with the extortion.

The introduction of Bills 9 and 10 leaves no doubt that this is an assault on the right of all workers to security in retirement. The government is continuing to use force and violence to impose its dictate, having criminalized every workplace action where the workers could express their collective No!

The Workers' Opposition rejects the disinformation about a tsunami of seniors who are portrayed as an unsustainable burden on the next generation, and who must be left to fend for themselves. Workers are producers of the wealth. In this economic system, workers exchange their capacity to work for a defined claim on the value the working class produces within the socialized economy. The claim of workers on the value they produce extends throughout their lifecycle of childhood, maturity and retirement. Security in retirement is a right, not an earned benefit that can later be "negotiated" away through extortion or any other method.

Alberta's public sector workers have refused to cave under the bogus pressure that their pensions somehow represent a burden on the economy. With the introduction of Bill 10, which gives employers a legal "right" to destroy defined benefit plans, the government has left no doubt that it wants to crater everyone's defined-benefit pensions and force retirees to risk a life in poverty and insecurity in their senior years. It must not pass!

TML calls on all workers, active and retired to come out and take a stand against Bills 9 and 10. A Canadian standard pension and security in retirement is the right of every Canadian.

The human-centred program guarantees the rights of all, which includes defined benefits for seniors and the highest quality public seniors' care.

Defend the Pensions We Have! Fight for Pensions for All!
All Out to Say No! to Bills 9 and 10!

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Bill 10 Assaults the Right of Private Sector Workers to Defined Benefit Pension Plans

On April 16, the Alberta PC government gave first reading to Bill 10, the Employment Pension (Private Sector) Plans Amendment Act, 2014. The bill was given second reading on April 17. The "amendment" being put forward will allow employers to retroactively convert accrued defined benefit pension plans in the private sector into target pension plans.

In a defined benefit plan, retirees receive a pension according to the formula established in the plan so long as the enterprise does not file for bankruptcy. A target pension plan is yet another form of a defined-contribution savings plan where the pension benefit is not guaranteed. The only guarantee for pensioners is that employers can trample on their rights.

The proposed legislation makes it legal for employers to refuse to honour their obligations to retired workers without even going through the fraud of seeking bankruptcy protection under the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA). With Bill 10, retired workers who have defined benefit pensions face increased insecurity and the possibility of poverty in retirement.

The legislation amends the Employment Pension Plans Act, which was quietly passed in the Legislature in 2012 with the support of all parties. The Act received Royal Assent on December 10, 2012, but cabinet never exercised its arbitrary power to decide when the law is proclaimed and the Act never became law. The government is now introducing amendments to the law, which fully reveal its purpose to allow employers to wreck pension plans and deny workers their right to security in retirement.

The original Act allowed all pension plans to use target benefit rules for benefits earned in the future. Regulations were then developed but not enacted to allow collectively bargained plans retroactively to convert their defined benefits to target benefits. Bill 10 amends the legislation to allow employers to convert all defined benefits into target benefits. Every private sector pension in Alberta can now be destroyed and converted into a target plan in which workers are made the target of the greed of the monopolies who want to seize more and more of the wealth produced by the working class.

The Finance Minister stated the Act will require plan members to be consulted and to approve any changes before a conversion can take place. To speak of "approval" is pure disinformation. Why would workers agree to having secure pensions with guaranteed benefits converted to savings plans where the benefits are merely a target. It is ridiculous. The reality is that the global monopolies are using lockouts, blackmail and every conceivable tactic to force such "agreements."

Further, by creating two-tier arrangements where the newly hired younger generation does not have defined benefit pension plans, they are setting the stage to force such "agreements" by splitting the workforce. Finance Minister Doug Horner made this quite clear when he stated in the Legislature, "Employers we've met with have been quite frank, Mr. Speaker. They need more flexibility to deal with the skyrocketing costs of the plans, or they may stop offering them altogether."

Who would be consulted, i.e., active or retired workers, or even whether a majority must agree is not stated. Little doubt exists that the agreement of retired workers will not be required. The rules governing who is required to approve a change will not be in the legislation, but in regulations developed after the fact, which can be changed by executive decree at any time.

In introducing the amendments, Minister Horner left no doubt that the public authority has been completely taken over by private monopoly interests. He had not a single word to say about the rights of workers to security in retirement; a right the government obviously does not recognize. Employers want these changes, Horner told the Legislature, so here they are.

"For a number of years employers have been bringing forward concerns regarding the sustainability of their defined benefit plans," Horner said. "These employers have expressed a lot of interest in the target benefits proposal. In response to the interest expressed by employers, a policy change is required to permit the retroactive conversion. This proposed amendment reflects that policy change."

Like a broken record, Horner shouts once more that the sky is falling, pension plan costs are skyrocketing, and employers are "burdened" with unfunded liabilities. Horner paints a picture of imminent collapse of pension plans, despite the fact that pension plans in Canada are now considered at the healthiest level in 12 years and most are now approaching or are at fully-funded status.[1]

The government does not speak as a public authority which has a social responsibility to its citizens and residents, but as the mouthpiece of the monopolies. The global energy monopolies, which are closely linked with the banks and other huge corporations, are making enormous profits from the resources that belong to the people of Alberta and Canada and the First Nations.

From October to December 2013 (third quarter), Canadian corporations earned $77.0 billion in operating profits. This was up 1.5 per cent from the previous quarter, and profits rose 2.6 per cent from July to September, 2013. Third quarter profits were up 4.3 per cent from the third quarter of 2012, rising 15.4 per cent in the financial sector. A government that enacts legislation allowing the owners of capital, who grow ever richer on the backs of the working people, to steal the pensions of active and retired workers is not fit to govern.

TML denounces the PCs' anti-worker legislation. This retrogressive Act fully reveals that the government is bent on depriving all working people the right to dignity and security in retirement. A Canadian standard pension and security in retirement is the right of every Canadian! Defend the pensions we have and fight for pensions for all!

Note

1. Pension plans studies show dramatic increases in the funding status of both public and private pension plans. For example, the Mercer Pension Health Index, which tracks the funded status of a hypothetical defined benefit pension plan, stood at 106 per cent on December 31, 2013 up from 82 per cent at the start of the year and at its highest level since June 2001. See "Funding Status of Pensions Plans in 2013," TML Daily, February 25, 2014 - No. 19.

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How the PCs Plan to Deprive Workers of Their Pensions One Step at a Time

The original Bill 10, the Employment Pension Plans Act, was passed in record time in the Legislature in 2012 with only five speakers. The government presented the bill as a major overhaul of pension legislation, which amongst other things would "control costs." There was not a single mention of the legislation in the monopoly-controlled media.

Reporting on the proceedings in the Legislature, TML pointed out at the time, "Everyone lauded the bill for being timely, necessary and a first step. But a first step to exactly what? On this point, the 'debate' became completely incoherent. Wildrose MLA Rob Anderson applauded the bill as a first step towards an assault on defined benefit pensions in general and public sector pensions in particular. His wild rant blamed defined benefit pensions for all the ills in the world and for being the cause of economic crisis, and the bankruptcy of monopolies and entire countries. He left no doubt as to where Wildrose is going and specifically targeted Alberta teachers whom he blamed for the deficit.[1] NDP and Liberal MLAs speaking to the bill applauded it as a first step to encouraging more employers to establish pension plans, while pointing out that most workers in Alberta have no pension plan of any kind and that this situation is unacceptable. The PC MLAs kept quiet, as their only role in this was to know when to say 'aye.'"

TML further commented, "The monopolies are not clamouring to establish pension plans, held back only by archaic legislation. They are intent on wrecking defined pension plans and putting in place various forms of savings plans, which provide capital to the financial oligarchy while providing no guaranteed pension in retirement. And this is what the new arrangements in Bill 10 are intended to do. It is part of the austerity agenda to pay the rich. Global monopolies and the governments that serve them consider that they can break previous arrangements with the working class with impunity. This is a time not to sing the praises of the government for introducing this legislation but to defend the rights of all, resist the attack on defined-benefit pensions and fight for arrangements that favour public right and interests."

The regulations and amended legislation confirm how the government acts by stealth to wreck pensions one step at a time, and that the original Bill 10 was intended to set the stage for a massive assault on defined benefit pensions in both the private and public sectors. The attack on private sector defined benefit plans is now fully underway in the form of the "amended Bill 10," which permits security in retirement to be negotiated or rather extorted away.

Both the PCs and Wildrose speak of active and retired workers as costs. How can workers be a cost? They are the producers and reproducers of value. Under capitalism, workers exchange their capacity to work for a defined claim on the value they produce within the socialized economy. This claim is for security throughout their lifecycle of childhood, maturity and retirement.

Security in retirement is a right, not an earned benefit that can later be "negotiated" away. Workers are not a cost whether active, in childhood or retired. The human-centred program guarantees the rights of all, which includes defined benefits for seniors and the highest quality public seniors' care.

Note

1. Anderson's speech can be found in Hansard -- click here.

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Wildrose Party Piles on Pressure Against Public Sector Workers and Their Pensions

Instead of opposing the PCs' retrogressive anti-pension Bill 9, the Public Sector Pension Plans Amendment Act, Wildrose Finance Critic Rob Anderson said, "We feel some reforms to the current system may be needed to ensure the long term sustainability of public pensions." He made it clear that the Wildrose reforms would not strengthen the right of workers to security in retirement but would be aimed at splitting young and old public sector workers so that little by little defined benefit pensions would be eliminated. Andersonf said, "Any substantial changes should only be applied to workers who have yet to be hired, rather than those already employed or retired."

In the 2012 election, Wildrose called for an end to defined benefit pensions for all newly hired public sector workers. In classic fashion, the means to attack the rights of all is to break the solidarity across generations, deny society's responsibility to the youth entering the workforce and weaken their connection with older workers.

Wildrose is in effect calling for two distinct pension plans, one without defined benefits for new hires and one with defined benefits for current and retired workers. The new plan without defined benefits would eventually overwhelm the existing ones.

The current defined benefit plans would have no new entrants. As the number of new active workers without defined benefits compared to retired workers continues to decline, the defined benefit plans would be considered unsustainable. Hysteria about their "un-sustainability" would rise to a crisis level; the stage would be set to declare that all defined benefit plans must be cratered. With the Wildrose and PCs, everyone's pension is at risk and the right to security in retirement denied. They are both unfit to govern.

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Education Is a Right! Strengthen Public Education for All!
Resist the Inroads in Education of Private Monopoly Interests!

What Is Behind Alberta's Debate on Math Instruction?

A debate has been created over curriculum and instruction in Alberta schools. In December of 2013, the results of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests of student achievement in mathematics were released. The results indicate the position of Canadian students in international rankings of math skills has dropped, with the fall slightly more pronounced in Alberta. The PISA tests are conducted by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Canadian students ranked thirteenth among OECD member countries. If Alberta were compared to other countries in the OECD, it would be in eleventh place, down from eighth place in 2009. This is a two per cent drop in the province's raw score over the last three years. John Manley, head of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives (CCCE) declared this to be a national emergency. The CCCE includes the heads of the 150 largest monopolies in Canada and represents the narrow demands of those monopolies, which look at education as an untapped market, ripe for privatization and the sale of educational technology and services for private profit. It is not an organization with the best interests of students at heart.

Parents, teachers, and all of society are concerned not just about these results but with what is happening to education generally. Within the context of cuts to education funding, larger classes and other serious concerns, what is the significance of these results? What should be done about these issues is a valid question.

But why all the hyperbole and rhetoric of crisis surrounding these results? Why is the high level of teacher burnout due to unsustainable workloads, which causes wonderfully talented teachers to leave the profession, not also considered a crisis?

The Alberta Teachers' Association (ATA) points out forcefully: in the last five years, Alberta's student population has increased by 41,000 students while the number of teaching positions has increased by only 100. The population of Alberta is set to continue to grow. Why does John Manley not consider the trend of larger class sizes caused by government underfunding to be a crisis? Why do the monopolies refuse to discuss the role of poverty in education? Or do they believe that whether a child comes to school hungry or not has no bearing on their test results? The answer is precisely because a hidden agenda exists to wreck public education, privatize it and not affirm the right to education in a forthright and objective manner.

Instead of seriously discussing the negative factors arising in part from underfunding and the encroachment on education by private interests, the monopoly media promote diversions such as the issue of so-called "discovery" approaches in mathematics, or "inquiry learning." Outrageous claims are made, for example, that teachers are not allowed to teach children the multiplication tables and that students are left to "discover" multiplication on their own. The Wildrose Party in particular has seized on the issue, with Education Critic Bruce McAllister championing the cause of parents who believe we should go "back to the basics" in education. Considering that the Wildrose Party agenda of continued austerity and cuts to public services will only further impoverish society and weaken the public education system, the question arises as to the aim of this hyperbole and hysteria. Is a hidden agenda to privatize public education not at play here as well?

Education Minister Jeff Johnson presents himself as the voice of reason, arguing for a "balanced approach" while refusing to be forthcoming about the government's own designs to privatize education. At the same time as the ratio of students to teachers continues to increase, what impacts will Alberta Education's curriculum redesign have on public education?

Pressure for privatization comes from the oil and gas monopolies as well as education technology monopolies such as Apple, Microsoft and SMART Technology, which demand to be "stakeholders" in curriculum development and education generally. The private monopolies demand an expanded role to treat education as a market and source of private profit. They are scheming to siphon away into their own private pockets more and more public funds both within a public setting and by setting up specific private institutions, which receive public funds but charge parents directly as well.

Teachers have been and will continue to discuss important questions of teaching methods and how education should be delivered to meet the needs of the people and the general interests of society. What is the modern definition of education? What is the modern relation between students and teachers and their roles, including their conscious participation in setting the agenda for the school year? What skills need to be practiced through repetition until they become automatic? How can inquiry be used to make school more relevant and encourage understanding beyond just rote memorization. The perspective of parents is important as well, as parents see another side of the student.

A serious discussion has to take place in a context where the social, economic, and political factors such as the question of funding for education and the right to education for all are recognized. Teachers, with the involvement of students, parents and the society in general, will continue to update their teaching methods, using the latest in educational research and developments. They need the resources such as time within the school day to do so, and they need respect as professionals to use their professional judgement, rather than having governments, monopolies and school boards dictating how they should teach.

Teachers, parents, students and all concerned with the future of society must establish their own independent agenda for discussion. They must not permit those forces who are motivated by private profit to set a narrow aim and agenda for students, teachers and society.

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Coming Events

Public Forum on Planned Cuts to Postal Services

Calgary
Saturday, May 3 -- 1:00- 4:00 pm
Dover Community Association, 3133-30 Ave. S.E.

On May 3 from 1:00 to 4:00 pm at the Dover Community Association (3133-30 Ave. S.E., Calgary), the Canadian Union of Postal Workers will host a public forum to hear from Albertans who will be affected by changes to postal service. The public forum comes in the wake of the Canada Post announcement that door-to-door delivery will stop and the price of stamps will jump.

"Albertans -- and all Canadians -- need to be consulted on these changes. The CEO of Canada Post won't listen to Canadians... but we will, CUPW Calgary President Anna Beale said. "Removing door-to-door delivery deeply affects the lives of many Albertans, particularly seniors and those with mobility issues. They aren't serving Canadians by imposing these changes."

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April 28 Day of Mourning for Workers Killed
or Injured on the Job



CALENDAR OF EVENTS

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