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July 15, 2014 - No. 67

Quebec

Fraudulent Discourse on Pension Deficits
for Municipal Employees


Demonstration in front of Montreal City Hall on June 17 against the bill on municipal sector pensions

Quebec
Fraudulent Discourse on Pension Deficits for Municipal Employees - Claude Moreau
North Shore Health Care Workers Embroiled in Budget Management Not
Patient Treatment
- Interview, Nathalie Savard, President, Syndicat des intervenantes
et intervenants de la santé du Nord-Est québécois (SIISNEQ)

Daycare Educators Hold One-Day Strike and Demonstrate Across Quebec




Quebec

Fraudulent Discourse on Pension Deficits
for Municipal Employees

The government, the monopoly-owned media and various experts incessantly repeat that municipal employees' pension funds are in crisis because of the size of their deficits which are the result of city employers being too generous with municipal employees. It is important to expose this fraudulent discourse.

The fraud starts with the fact that while the state does not protect retirement savings, it rushes to the rescue of the financial system as it did during the 2008 financial crisis. At that time, tens of billions of dollars from the pension funds were put in the hands of speculators and financial fraudsters and have since gone up in smoke without charge or conviction of the fraudsters. What led to this?

Municipal financial managers were accustomed to high yields, which allowed them to take contribution holidays or tax breaks, as was the case with Quebec City’s surplus during the 1990s. In the early 2000s, when interest rates and bond yields were low, they took more risks, putting the funds they were responsible for into the hands of speculators and continuously pushing back the reimbursement of projected actuarial deficits. As the surplus money generated by employer contributions was taken out of the fund, it could not generate returns, thereby affecting the fund's ability to meet its future obligations. When looked at over the long term, the large banks experienced a slightly better performance in actuarial estimates despite the years 2008 and 2011.

On the matter of the deficit fraud, currently there is money in the funds and cheques are issued to pay annuities, indexing, etc. There is no deficit and no borrowing is required to pay the amounts due. It is an actuarial calculation which foresees a future deficit relative to future obligations. The cities have a problem. According to the fraud, people are not dying fast enough. They are living longer and the pension funds are too generous that the taxpayers are able to afford. They do not mention the surplus from the pension funds that municipal managers used to lower taxes in Quebec and to take contribution holidays. Employees have paid their part of the contract. As for retirees' ability to pay, cutting their indexation is elder abuse.

Recently, the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, responsible for managing Quebec's public sector pensions, received authorization to increase the proportion of its investments abroad. This will allow it to try to make more money in foreign financial markets. Are the government and the Caisse trying to do more of the same that led to the financial crisis of 2008, which caused major losses for the pension funds? Is the purpose of the Caisse to fulfil the people's need for financial security or are the people supposed to adapt themselves to the schemes of the administration? In this way, the retirement benefits for which the people have paid are reduced as their money in the pension funds is liquidated.

This raises the question of who owns these contributions and to whom does the surplus belong? Municipal managers could have disposed of actuarial surpluses through contribution holidays or tax breaks, but any deficits are their responsibility. Municipal employees reinvested surpluses by purchasing additional benefits; the surplus generated by their contributions thus remained in the fund. Now that there are gaps to be filled on the part of the municipalities, the state, in the form of the Quebec Liberal government of Philippe Couilard has intervened with Bill 3. An Act to foster the financial health and sustainability of municipal defined benefit pension plans is to brutally impose on active and retired workers a 50-50 scheme to make up the pension deficits that were solely the responsibility of the municipalities. Is this what the majority Liberal government of Premier Couillard means when it talks of Quebec's economy needing "structural changes"?


Demonstration in front of Montreal City Hall on June 17 against the bill on municipal sector pensions

(Translated from original French.)

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North Shore Health Care Workers Embroiled in
Budget Management Not Patient Treatment

TML: Please tell us a little about the Northeast Quebecois Union for Health Professionals, SIISNEQ.

Nathalie Savard: Our union has about 1,250 members who are nurses, nursing assistants and inhalotherapists. We represent workers on the North Shore, in Northern Quebec and Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean. Our union is 60 years old and during that time we have been a voice in health care in these three regions.

TML: You recently surveyed your members about the impact of health care cutbacks on their working conditions and services to the public. In a recent press conference you said the impact is very serious. Can you tell us more?

NB: In the last few years, specifically on the North Shore, our workers have become increasingly sick. Mental health issues are the foremost problem we face. It shows that problems such as the amount of overtime and mandatory overtime and the increased workload are just getting worse. Sick leave amongst our members is on the rise. Mental health problems arise because our workers feel that they are not able to provide the care required by the patients. They go home feeling that they have not been able to attend to their patients properly, as they have been trained.

The North Shore is experiencing a severe shortage of nurses. We are short 180 nurses, more than 50 nursing assistants and a dozen inhalotherapists. It is urgent that something be done. If we are to get out of this situation, we must find ways to attract people to the health care professions.

There are only two Cegeps on the North Shore and that is not enough to fill our needs for health care positions. We do not have a university. Students who want to get a university degree can do so locally on a part-time basis by video conference. However, if they want to study on a full-time basis they have to leave the region and then the problem for us is how to convince them to come back and work in the region.

TML: You say that being part of the Northern Plan makes your situation even more complex. Why is this the case?

NS: The Northern Plan has a huge impact on us. We have to compete for workers with the mining companies. They offer much better wages and working conditions. We don't have what it takes to compete with that. With the Northern Plan the cost of living has increased dramatically. Everything is very expensive. The vacancy rate for apartments is extremely low and those apartments that are available are very expensive. A nursing assistant makes $30-35,000 a year, how can she afford to live in the region? Our members who work with patients who receive psychiatric treatment at home are having a hard time to finding housing for them because the rents are so high and these people live on welfare.

The Northern Plan has also brought with it a lot of social problems such as drugs, alcoholism and violence. In Fermont there is nothing to do: workers are there without their families, there are a lot of social problems. Many young people quit school to work in the mines because the wages are high, but when the mines slow down what will they do? They will have to go back to school. Is there going to be assistance for the municipalities and educational institutions so that the youth can be looked after?

Also the health care budgets in our region have not increased under the hoax that our population has not increased in numbers. But when the "fly-in, fly-out" workers here get sick or injured, they use our services. This is an added pressure on the system because we do not receive more funding and it is the health care workers who have to step in and make up the difference of this extra burden of work.

All these problems have to be looked at thoroughly. In order to deal with one problem we have to deal with many aspects of society.

TML: What do you think of the Quebec government’s argument that public services have to be run in a more effective and productive way?

NS: This is a way of asking us to do more with less. It has been proven that the more you cut services the more you attack their quality. Our people are very productive and they care about their patients. They are doing everything they can so that the quality of the public services does not fall in spite of the cutbacks and that is how they become sick. There is no room for any more cutbacks. Workers are stretched to the maximum.

When we are told that we have to become more efficient and productive, it means for example that we have to follow the "lean" method, the Toyota method. We are to give that many minutes for a visit to a patient, see that many patients a day, schedule that much time for a surgery, etc. It does not take into account the complexity of the care -- sometimes a visit to a patient can take 10 minutes, sometimes 45. Our workers feel more and more that they are being asked to manage budgets rather than treat patients. That is a major factor contributing to the deterioration of workers' health.

TML: How do you deal with all these problems?

NS: The main thing is that all the regional players have to sit and talk based on the common concern of providing quality care to the people. This means local MNAs, employers, regional health authorities, unions. The MNAs have to realize that they have been elected to serve the needs of the people of the region. We have to make sure that employers do not work in isolation and think that they will manage their situation on their own. It is all together that we can solve these problems.

Our union has been active in this region for the last 60 years. We have made many proposals that are rational and practical and we are still making proposals. For example, there should be more training of nurses, nursing assistants and inhalotherapists so that they are authorized to do more medical procedures. Soon there are going to be negotiations in the public sector. We want to work out demands that take into account the regional disparities in terms of health care conditions so that we can offer the quality of care that is needed and attract and keep people in the health care system on the North Shore. One problem we have in the region is the long distances people have to travel to health care facilities. Sometimes they have to go by plane. It costs more money here than in other regions to provide health care but that is the nature of the beast. We pay our taxes like everybody else, we have to be able to provide the same quality of care as everywhere else in Quebec.

(Translated from original French.)

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Daycare Educators Hold One-Day Strike and Demonstrate Across Quebec

On July 7, the 13,600 home daycare workers affiliated with the Federation of Early Childhood Professionals of Quebec (FIPEQ-CSQ) held a one-day strike and demonstrated across Quebec with their allies to protest the slow pace of negotiations for a second collective agreement. These early childhood educators have been in negotiations since October 15, 2013 and they submitted their monetary demands on June 13. Discussions on priority issues, including the ineffectiveness of the current system of work relations, their professional autonomy, respect for privacy and fair and equitable compensation for their work, are still ongoing.

"We, the 13,600 home daycare workers affiliated with the CSQ-FIPEQ, are more determined than ever and we are determined to force the Liberal government to move forward with negotiations. It is time to discuss the real issues," said Kathleen Courville, president of the FIPEQ-CSQ.

"This public service is essential and allows thousands of women to enter the labour market. Improving the working conditions of home daycare workers across Quebec also directly improves services for young children. These services must be looked at as an essential investment in Quebec society," said the president of the Centrale des syndicats du Québec (CSQ), Louise Chabot.

"The major issue blocking the negotiations at this time is the working relationship between the coordinating offices and child care," said Courville. The coordinating offices are responsible for daycare services in the regions and are in charge of the distribution of enrolment and government grants. They also ensure compliance on the part of the premises. One of the FIPEQ's main demands is to harmonize the practices of these offices, some of which make decisions that exceed their authority according to some educators. The FIPEQ would like "a dispute resolution process in order to challenge the decisions made by the coordinating offices that are not justified."

Home daycare workers are also demanding recognition of their actual work hours. They work on average 50 hours per week and are paid for 35 hours.

Rather than respond to their legitimate demands, the Quebec Minister of Families, Francine Charbonneau, is playing the same old card that workers are holding the people and families hostage. She also claims the negotiations are complex because the workers are "self-employed" yet want to be recognized as employees" while having decision-making power. "It is not simple. But our desire is to move forward and for parents to not have to seek child care spaces," she said.

FIPEQ-CSQ President Courville clarified the situation, "Contrary to what is implied by the ministry, we are currently experiencing a block at the bargaining table and there is a categorical refusal by the ministry to consider the negotiations' real issues. We therefore ask Minister Charbonneau to give clear mandates to her representatives to break the deadlock experienced at the table concerning, among other things, the role of coordinating offices and especially the collective agreement and the recognition of our work.

"We are stunned to see Minister Charbonneau's ignorance in the case of early childhood education and what is really happening at the bargaining table. We are even more appalled by her ignorance of the reality on the ground and the real work carried out by home daycare workers on a daily basis. In our opinion, it is unacceptable to say that home daycare workers have no training in pedagogy to apply and, what is more, that they work only 35 hours a week," she added.

Other Pressure Tactics Considered

During the one-day strike, the FIPEQ-CSQ home daycare workers held an Extraordinary General Assembly and voted 92 per cent in favour of an additional strike mandate of three full days. These three days, like the one already held, will be used at the appropriate time, depending on the progress of discussions at the bargaining table. A negotiation day was also held July 9 between the FIPEQ-CSQ and the Ministry of Families.

(French quotations translated by TML.)

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