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April 25, 2014 - No. 48

Quebec

Concerns of Public Sector and
Forestry Workers over
Their Working and Living Conditions


"Decent working conditions for all!"; "For a secure income that covers our needs and gives us our dignity and rights!"

Concerns of Public Sector Workers in Quebec
Public Sector Workers' Working and Living Conditions - Pierre Chénier
Wages Are at the Heart of the Problems - Donald Rheault, president of the CSN Abitibi -Témiscamingue Central Council, Nord-du-Québec

Forestry Sector
Deterioration of Quebec Forestry Workers' Living and Working Conditions

International Affairs
Brazil Hosts International Meeting on Global Internet Governance
Cuba to Chair World Health Summit


Concerns of Public Sector Workers in Quebec

Public Sector Workers' Working and Living Conditions

The collective agreements of more than 400,000 public and broader public sector workers in health care, social services, education, post-secondary education and other public services will expire on March 31, 2015. The unions are committed to working as a common front to present their demands by the end of 2014. The living and working conditions of these workers are the conditions under which these services are delivered to the Quebeckers who depend on them. We must ensure that these workers have living and working conditions that are commensurate with the work they carry out for society.


"Our wages are stolen to finance private services!"

It has become customary for the ruling circles and their parties to denigrate the public and broader public sector services and the workers in these sectors as "a cost" and their pensions as "a burden" to society. They say this cost must be reduced for the well-being of society. Their cuts to these sectors lead to the deterioration of the services. The crisis which they themselves create in these sectors is then used to call for the complete privatization of public services as the solution.

According to the perverse logic of the parties of the rich, we must "first create wealth" before we can invest in social programs and services. In fact, what they call "creating wealth" consists of nothing more than transferring ever greater portions of the social wealth to private monopoly interests. The impression they create is that there is no alternative to the destruction of social programs and services.

For the working class, social programs and public services are part of the wealth workers create through their work. The more these services adequately meet the needs of workers and the general population, the stronger the economy will be. The opposite also applies: the more services and social programs are impoverished, the more impoverished the economy becomes and the greater its inability to create wealth. Social programs and public services are an essential component for the humanization of society.

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Wages Are at the Heart of the Problems

TML is posting below an interview regarding the situation of Quebec's public sector workers. It was originally published in Chantier politique, the online paper of the Marxist-Leninist Party of Quebec (PMLQ).

***

Chantier politique: In your opinion, what are the main problems facing workers in the public and broader public sectors right now?

Donald Rheault: Workers' wages are a major problem. We have a lot of difficulty in the public sector with retention of workers, especially certified maintenance workers and craftsmen. There is unfair competition with the private sector. The difference in pay on average is around 30 per cent. An electrician working in the public sector earns on average 30 per cent less than he would earn in the construction sector. There are jobs where the situation is worse, where the wage gap is upwards of 35 per cent. Consequently, we have trouble attracting specialized workers for our school boards and hospitals.

It is a problem of dramatic proportions. In my own school board, we had job postings for plumbers for two years. They were unable to find a plumber. The school board turned to the private sector to subcontract the job. The contractor wanted $75 an hour when we could have paid a plumber the industry standard in the range of $20-22 per hour.

There's no question that a worker is better off working for a subcontractor in the private sector. The pay is higher. We are witnessing a migration from the public to the private sector, especially with mining in Abitibi. For the past two years, our skilled workers have been leaving for the mining sector. They're leaving the sector and no longer applying to work in our sector as the wage gap is so large. We have cases here in Amos where plumbers come to work for us as subcontractors but they don't apply to work directly in the public sector when they see the wage rate. They stay in the private sector.

This is the trend everywhere in the health care or education sectors. Public sector wages have not followed the upward trend necessary to ensure the retention of the workforce. Year after year, come negotiation time, we lose purchasing power. We lose wages while the private sector gains.

This is a problem experienced throughout Quebec. Whether on the North Shore, in the heart of Quebec or in Montreal, there is the same difficulty.

CP: Are lower wages linked to privatization in your opinion?

DR: Yes. We are always faced with this situation that if you don't have the wages, you can't attract people and if you can't attract anyone you still have to give the job to someone. There's no doubt that this contributes to opening the public sector to the private sector. There are hospitals where employment agencies hang around and tell the employers that if they can't find employees, they will do it for them. But workers from the agencies are not covered by our bargaining units; they have different working conditions, conditions that are substandard if everything is taken into account. There are some workers whose contracts with hospitals provide better working conditions than the public sector and they remain in the private sector.

In the public sector, we have people in nursing homes working night shifts and day shifts, as well as four-hour shifts. People want job stability and better hours, so if the agency is able to provide that, that is where people will go. They will go through the agencies to get hired to work in the public sector.

Take the example of a hospital that needs a medical secretary. The employer wants to pay $17 an hour for a 25-hour a week job. They can't find anyone. The agency will go see the employer and say that it can find someone for the position, but they will have to pay a little more money than planned through the agency. For the agency to find someone they must pay $18-$19 an hour instead of $17 and it asks the hospital for more than 25 hours of work per week. The hospital, to get rid of the problem, will give the contract to the agency. The person hired through the agency will have a higher wage, but no pension or salary benefits. In the agencies, there is not much unionization. The worker is on their own to negotiate the terms. In conditions of extreme employee shortages, workers who go through agencies may end up with a slightly higher salary, but obviously it's another story with regards to benefits or pensions. The public sector employers are handing off their responsibilities for employees by filling positions through employment agencies.

Employment agencies live off of the labour shortages and low wages that exist in the public sector. Wages are a major issue. We must stop the hemorrhage there. It's a problem that has many ramifications.

(Translated from original French by PMLQ.)

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Forestry Sector

Deterioration of Quebec Forestry Workers'
Living and Working Conditions


Protests by Quebec forestry workers: "Protect our jobs, pensions and communities!";
"Reimburse Fraser Paper workers and retirees!"

According to the union Unifor, in Quebec the unionization rate in forestry has fallen from 78 per cent in 1986 to 28 per cent in 2009 and the downward trend continues. Over the past few decades forestry monopolies have gotten rid of their fleets of trucks and forestry machinery. The purchase and maintenance of trucks and machines has fallen mainly on the workers' shoulders. They suddenly become "independent" and "owners," an obvious fraud as their livelihood is still dependent on the monopolies and they own nothing but their labour, insecurity and debt.

For thousands of forestry workers, this change has meant the loss of their pensions and benefits. It has also meant the loss of their union membership because their legal employment relationship with a company ends under the pretext of their so-called independence. Lay-offs and outright closures have resulted in further massive de-unionization in the sector.

De-unionization is one of the main instruments used to bring about the deterioration of working conditions in forestry. This deterioration has intensified since the adoption of the new forestry regime, which came into force on April 1, 2013, following the adoption of Bill 7, An Act to amend the Sustainable Forest Development Act and other legislative provisions. The law was passed unanimously despite repeated objections by forestry workers who said that this new system would accelerate de-unionization and worsen working conditions.

Before the introduction of the new regime, the volume of timber for exploitation was allocated through Timber Supply and Forest Management Agreements (TSFMAs). These have been replaced with supply guarantees. A key aspect is that now 25 per cent and sometimes more of the wood that was formerly allocated by the government for logging under the TSFMAs is sold at auction.

This was done in the name of diversifying the ownership of the timber, putting it into more hands, not just those of the large corporations. But diversification without addressing the domination of the industry by a few monopolies is a fraud and it is the workers who are paying the price. Large companies have the means to directly monopolize the auctions. They then declare they have the right to hire the workers they choose under conditions they dictate for the timber they acquire at auction. That means the work is not necessarily done by their unionized workers. They recruit workers on the labour market and unionized workers are transformed into non-unionized contract labour for short or long term contracts. Forestry workers say that they leave the forest unionized with benefits and pensions on Friday and return unorganized with nothing but their declining wages on Monday.

In other cases, large companies leave the wood marketed at auction to others, but control the auctioned wood once it is cut, tightening the noose on contractors who must find buyers for their timber. Again, it is the contract workers who suffer. This is a mass of workers who have no job security, who do not know how much wood they will cut or move in the coming year, and who are unable to plan how they will recoup the cost of their machinery.

The parties in the National Assembly have perpetrated a huge fraud, claiming that the new system is balanced and fair while ignoring the deterioration of living and working conditions in the sector. Faced with this problem, unions are demanding that labour laws reflect the reality of forestry work. This includes recognizing the employment relationship that is masked by the timber auctions, in order to ensure that workers remain unionized even when they become contractors on the so-called free market. This demand must be supported because it is a way to reduce arbitrariness and protect some unionized jobs and thus conditions that are superior to those of non-union work. Further measures must be considered that will block the tendency of de-unionization in the sector, which was already significant under the old TSFMA regime.

It is conceivable that automatic unionization could be available and guaranteed to all workers in the sector who so desire. This would reduce competition between workers and slow the decline in their working and living conditions. Whichever way one looks at the problem, the status quo, where the industry is dominated by a few monopolies that wreak havoc in the sector and in the lives of workers and their communities, cannot continue.

(Reprinted from Chantier politique. Translated from original French by PMLQ.)

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International Affairs

Brazil Hosts International Meeting on
Global Internet Governance

From April 23 to 24, Brazil hosted an international meeting to establish a global Internet governance agreement, NETmundial, at Sao Paulo's Cultural Center.

Delegates included representatives of civil society, international organizations and institutions, government leaders, as well as the founder of Thought Works and promoter of opensource software Roy Singham, Spanish sociologist Manuel Castells and Tim Berners-Lee, considered the founder of the World Wide Web. The Sao Paulo meeting aimed to develop ideas and generate discussion on the importance of Internet rights, as well as seeking agreement on rules for the use of cyberspace.

The meeting was called by the Brazilian government last year. Gilberto Carvalho, Secretary General of the Presidency of Brazil, invited a variety of interested parties to discuss "the direction of the Internet in Brazil and the world, in this new democratic digital era." The impetus for the meeting was the speech by Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff that opened the current session of the UN General Assembly last fall, in which she denounced U.S. cyber espionage and demanded the creation of an Internet regulatory framework. Leaked documents on top secret U.S. government spying programs, revealed that the U.S. National Security Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation had been spying on millions of American and European phone records and the Internet data, as well as emails and other data of Brazilian citizens and corporations, including those of President Rousseff.

The agenda for the two-day exchange included the development of a document to describe principles for governance and use of Internet in Brazil. Delegates worked toward advancing multi-sector Internet governance, and its development without hegemonic control. The essential goal set out before the meeting was to reach an agreement on a resolution to limit United States dominance in the administration of cyberspace. According to the president of the Brazilian Internet Steering Committee Demi Getschko, the idea is to promote a kind of Universal Declaration on Internet Human Rights which includes principles such as freedom of expression, privacy, transparency and collective governance. Spying activities by the United States using global communication platforms, including the World Wide Web, was severely criticized by participants in the meeting.

During the meeting, Tim Berners-Lee defended the proposal of President Rousseff for the creation of an international body to oversee the Internet's technical functions in order to democratize the use of the Internet and protect fundamental human rights, such as privacy. He also welcomed the adoption of a law by the Brazilian government, amounting to a web user's bill of rights. The legislation, dubbed Brazil's "Internet Constitution," sets out rights and duties for users and provider for the exploitation of the Web. The new Brazilian law prohibits the sale or disposal to others of personal data, while companies are obliged to store for at least six months all the data captured by their servers.

On the second day of proceedings, delegates met to finalize the details of a non-binding resolution that establishes guidelines for action to achieve global Internet governance. Participants sought consensus on measures to ensure the principles, rights and duties for both Internet users and service providers, as well as greater international participation in the management of the World Wide Web, currently overseen by the United States. The inviolability of the data, equality in the use of this virtual space and the free flow of information are claims included in the final declaration of the meeting.

On April 25, the meeting's final declaration, the "NETmundial Multistakeholder Statement," was released. The first heading of the first section of the statement concerning "Internet Governance Principles" is entitled "Human Rights and Shared Values." It reads as follows:

"Human rights are universal as reflected in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and that should underpin Internet governance principles. Rights that people have offline must also be protected online, in accordance with international human rights legal obligations, including the International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights and Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

"Those rights include, but are not limited to:

"- Freedom of expression: Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

"- Freedom of association: Everyone has the right to peaceful assembly and association online, including through social networks and platforms.

"- Privacy: The right to privacy must be protected. This includes not being subject to arbitrary or unlawful surveillance, collection, treatment and use of personal data. The right to the protection of the law against such interference should be ensured.

"- Procedures, practices and legislation regarding the surveillance of communications, their interception and collection of personal data, including mass surveillance, interception and collection, should be reviewed, with a view to upholding the right to privacy by ensuring the full and effective implementation of all obligations under international human rights law.

"- Accessibility: persons with disabilities should enjoy full access to online resources. Promote the design, development, production and distribution of accessible information, technologies and systems on the internet.

"- Freedom of information and access to information: Everyone should have the right to access, share, create and distribute information on the Internet, consistent with the rights of authors and creators as established in law.

"- Development: all people have a right to development and the Internet has a vital role to play in helping to achieve the full realization of internationally agreed sustainable development goals. It is a vital tool for giving people living in poverty the means to participate in development processes."

To view the statement in its entirety, click here.

(Granma International, Radio Havana Cuba, NETmundial.org)

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Cuba to Chair World Health Summit

Cuba will chair, for the first time, the 6th World Health Summit, taking place May 19-24, 2015, in Geneva, the Cuban Ministry of Public Health (MINSAP) recently announced.

Dr. Antonio González, head of MINSAP's department of international organizations, explained that Cuba has been chosen in large part because of the results and impact of its health initiatives, within the country and internationally.


UN Secretary General visits the Latin American School of Medicine in Havana, January 28, 2014.  Ban highlighted Cuban health results, including a low infant mortality rate, a higher life expectancy and universal health coverage, which he considered an example to many around the world.
(Radio Cadena Agramonte)

Cuba has achieved virtually all of the UN's Millennium Development Goals. The infant mortality rate in 2013 was 4.2 for every 1,000 live births, the lowest in the Americas -- including the U.S. and Canada; the rate of maternal mortality was 21 per 1,000, one of the lowest in Latin America, he said.

In addition, Cuba has been able to control AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria epidemics, Dr. González pointed out, adding that AIDS is not an epidemiological problem as in other countries, and anti-retroviral medicines are available to those who need them. Regarding malaria, Cuba was acknowledged by the World Health Organization (WHO) for having eradicated it during the 1960s, he explained.

Through vaccination campaigns, Cuba has been able to eradicate other transmittable illnesses such as polio, diphtheria, whooping cough, neonatal tetanus and rubella, with a vaccination regimen designed to protect against 13 diseases, said Dr. González.

Dr. González -- who will be presiding over the conference -- said that the Summit's agenda was prepared in February 2013, by the WHO 134th Executive Council, which includes 34 countries throughout the world. He added that 67 issues and 17 resolutions will be under consideration, with two work commissions meeting, to discuss health techniques and administrative issues.

During the last visit to Cuba of WHO Director Dr. Margaret Chan, she described Cuba as an exemplary health care model. She praised the important contribution made by Cuban health workers abroad, and the country's efforts to train medical personnel from other countries, thus improving health indicators in those countries as well.


WHO Director Dr. Margaret Chan visits the Latin American School of Medicine in October 2009. During another visit to Cuba in March 2012 she personally thanked Cuba's health care providers "for the health-care you provide on a daily basis so selflessly and professionally, something I wish was true all around the world, including in far richer countries than Cuba."
(Juventud Rebelde)

(Granma International)

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