February 24, 2021 - No. 10

Company Invokes Force Majeure to Deny Its
Responsibility to  Workers

Olymel Must Be Held to Account!

Support the Demand for Status For All
Permanent Resident Status for Immigrants and Refugees Now!  
- Diane Johnston 

Protection of Frontline Workers Critical for the Protection of All
Saskatchewan Health Care Workers Demand Changes to Vaccination Plan

Scheduled Closure of Montreal Steel Plant
Workers Demand That Plant Remain Open  - Normand Chouinard 

Company Invokes Force Majeure to Deny Its Responsibility to Workers

Olymel Must Be Held to Account!

February 18, 2021. UFCW members outside Olymel plant in Red Deer to ensure the plant
shuts down.

The workers at the Olymel pork processing plant in Red Deer Alberta finally succeeded in shutting the plant down to bring the spread of COVID-19  under control. As of February 19, 426 cases of COVID-19 had been recorded due to the one outbreak, with 212 active cases and one worker dead. The workers forced the company to close the plant in the face of its refusal to take responsible action. On February 17, 12 days after the workers responded to a survey by their union overwhelmingly calling for a temporary closure, the company shut down by shamelessly declaring force majeure so as not to pay compensation. Workers have been issued layoff notices.

Claiming that the plant closure is due to "unforeseen circumstances" beyond its control (force majeure), and that therefore it does not have to abide by the provisions of the collective agreement regarding layoffs, the company is offering pay advances which the workers would have to repay, and assistance in helping workers access federal programs. United Food and Commercial Workers Local 401 reports that it is exploring legal options to ensure the workers are fully compensated. President Thomas Hesse says the layoff contravenes the collective agreement and may also violate Alberta employment standards.

According to Alberta Health Services, more than 60 per cent of the workers at Olymel have at least one other job which is one indication of how oppressive the conditions are at that plant. Clearly, workers who are positive or self-isolating will lose that income as well, along with the income of other family members who will also have to self-isolate. Furthermore, many of the workers are immigrants who not only support themselves and their families here in Canada, but families in their home country who depend on the remittances they send.

"We continue to believe that it is the company's responsibility to support and provide compensation for their employees during this necessary pause in production because it is due to failures on the company's part that the workplace needed to close," Hesse said in a statement.

Companies like Olymel assert their "monopoly right" to control decision-making on health and safety matters and fight tooth and nail to prevent the workers from exercising their rights to decide what constitutes a safe and healthy working environment. They refuse to even acknowledge that it is the workers who actually know where the problems lie and what measures are needed to make their workplaces safe. When their narrow drive for maximum profit leads to disaster, they cry that they are not responsible, it is beyond their control, an "act of God" and so on.

Workers and their union have pointed to many factors which were certainly under Olymel's control. For example, Olymel failed to reduce line speeds to a safe level, and to provide safe places for the workers to take their breaks and eat lunch. The company ramped up production and hired several hundred new workers leading to even more crowded conditions.

It is absurd to suggest that a major outbreak of COVID-19 was unforeseen. Meat processing plants all over North America and the world have been particularly hard-hit by COVID-19. Alberta alone now has outbreaks in eight meat packing plants. The government must be held to account for permitting the corporations to act with impunity which is what the workers and their union are doing by fighting for full compensation.

(Photo: UFCW)

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Support the Demand for Status For All

Permanent Resident Status for Immigrants
and Refugees Now!

The government of Canada continues to refuse to do its duty to guarantee the rights of each and every human being in Canada, including over one and a half million immigrants and refugees. Throughout the pandemic migrant workers, including thousands who live under constant threat of deportation, have put their lives on the line to work in long-term care homes and hospitals, in restaurants and meat processing plants, warehouses, farms and industry. In actions from coast to coast migrant workers and people from all walks of life have repeatedly raised the demand that Canada modernize itself and recognize that all human beings have rights and guarantee status for all.

Recently Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada invited over 27,000 migrants to apply for permanent residency through the Express Entry draw on February 13. These draws take place about every two weeks. February 13 was the highest number ever, a 440 per cent increase from the previous draw on January 21.

Migrant Rights Network reports on its website: 

"Canada's Express Entry system assigns points for age, language, education, work experience and more. While the points required for this latest invitation are the lowest ever, migrants in these large numbers were invited to apply for permanent residency in the 'Canadian Experience Class' (CEC). To qualify for CEC, applicants must, among other requirements, have 12 months of high-waged work in Canada in managerial or technical jobs. Migrants in low-waged work are not allowed to apply.

"Farm workers, care workers, those working in food processing, retail, delivery, warehouse, cleaning, construction, and workers in all those other jobs Canadians have come to call 'essential', are deemed 'low-skilled' by the immigration system. 

"Few avenues exist for them to get rights and permanent residence under current rules. The 'pathways to status' for low-waged farm workers and care workers require high language and education scores that effectively shut them out."

In the 2019-2020 year detentions and deportations increased to the highest level since 2015 and, after a period of reduced removals from March to November last year, removals began again at the beginning of December. Migrant Rights Network reports that applications to stay from undocumented migrants are being denied at record high rates at present.

Migrant workers are part of the Canadian working class which does not recognize the categories that the ruling elite has created in an attempt to divide people. This division is used to justify the super-exploitation of those accorded fewer rights, a situation that is exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Modern definitions recognize only one humanity and governments at every level have a duty to guarantee the rights of all.

The Migrant Rights Network is appealing to everyone to sign the petition demanding the government grant full and permanent status for all and states: "Clearly the government can easily grant people PR [Permanent Resident status], but chooses to cherry-pick and discriminate instead. The federal government is scrambling to meet its immigration targets by granting status to some, while deporting and denying others. This is a divide and conquer strategy that pits 'deserving' migrants against 'undeserving' migrants. But permanent status is not a gift for the deserving -- it is about equality. It is a means to access healthcare, education, labour protections, family reunification and other basic rights. And all of us deserve the same rights."

Four hundred organizations representing over 8 million members have signed the petition which can be accessed here.

(Photos: WF, CAC)

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Protection of Frontline Workers Critical for the Protection of All

Saskatchewan Health Care Workers Demand Changes to Vaccination Plan 

Health care workers in Saskatchewan are demanding that the provincial government prioritize health care workers in its vaccination planning schedule. The immunization of health care workers who are on the front lines of the fight to curb COVID-19 is not only a matter of protecting their own health but of ensuring that they neither spread nor contract the virus in the course of their work. Immunization of health care workers is universally recognized as an essential element of a socially-responsible vaccination plan to protect society. Immunization of health care workers is one of the guidelines of Canada's National Advisory Committee on Immunizations.

The Saskatchewan government plan does not adequately protect health care workers. On February 16, in an open letter to the Premier, the Minister of Health and the province's Chief Medical Health Officer, Barbara Cape, the President of Service Employees International Union West, pointed out "I wish to draw to your attention the shocking failure of your vaccine delivery plan to appropriately prioritize workers across the full range of interrelated job classifications on which our health care and long-term care systems depend."

The government of Saskatchewan is implementing a two phase vaccine rollout, originally announced in January and amended twice since then. Phase One, from December 2020 to March 2021 includes the vaccination of certain health care workers, including selected, but not all, hospital workers, ambulance teams, workers in congregate living settings such as long-term care and personal care homes. Phase One also includes everyone over 70 years of age and those over 50 years of age in remote communities and Northern Saskatchewan. Phase Two, anticipated to begin between April and June 2021, is "focused on vaccinating the general population by age, as well as the clinically extremely vulnerable and people in emergency shelters and group homes."  The original plan that was announced on January 14 also prioritized additional health care workers in Phase Two. On February 9 the government announced a change and that there would be no prioritization of any health care workers in Phase Two.

The Saskatchewan Union of Nurses responded immediately to the February 9 announcement with a letter from SUN President Tracy Zambory denouncing the decision and calling on nurses, who "are essential to the functioning of our health system and to us beating COVID-19" to email the Premier, the Health Minister, officials of the Saskatchewan Health Authority and their Member of the Legislative Assembly, calling on them to reinstate the original plan to prioritize all health care workers and other essential workers in Phase Two and that Phase One should be expanded to include residents and staff of congregate living settings that provide care for seniors and all health care workers whose work involves direct contact with patients.

On February 16, under pressure from health care workers, the government made some amendments to include more categories of health care workers in Phase One, but did not implement the demands of health care workers that all should be prioritized in Phase Two.

Health care workers and their unions are continuing to mobilize to demand that the government reinstate its original plan, to prioritize vaccinations for all health care workers in order to protect the workers and everyone that they look after. The fact that Canada's economy is not self-reliant and vaccines are purchased from big pharmaceutical companies over which Canadians exercise no control and whose aim is to serve the narrow private interests of their shareholders must be tackled by the workers across the country. To force Canadians to compete for available vaccines and accept that they are a "scarce resource" is unacceptable. Everyone should be vaccinated in a timely manner in a public process which is coherent and orderly. Nobody needs the stress which governments, employers, private interests and  media are adding to an already stressful situation as they seek to cover up the essential matter that the direction of Canada's economy is unsustainable and must be changed.

(Photo: CFNU)

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Scheduled Closure of Montreal Steel Plant

Workers Demand That Plant Remain Open

Workers at Cable Steel plant in Pointe-Claire on Montreal's west island are opposing the decision of the owners, the Bridon-Bekaert Ropes Group (BBRG), subsidiary of Belgium-based Bekaert group, a global monopoly in steel wire transformation and coating technologies, to close the plant at the end of May. The Pointe-Claire plant produces steel wire cables that are used on bridges, in mining operations, in oil extraction and by Hydro-Quebec. It also has a contract with the U.S. navy for cables used on aircraft carriers. It has customers in several countries. A closure of the plant would directly affect the 105 production workers currently at work and some 20 workers who have been laid off for over a year. These workers are members of the Syndicat des travailleurs de Câbles d'acier de Pointe-Claire, which is affiliated to the Manufacturing Industry's Federation of the Confederation of National Trade Unions (CSN). About 30 office people, who are not unionized, would also lose their jobs. The closure of the plant would be another blow to the manufacturing sector in Quebec that has lost tens of thousands of jobs in the last fifteen years.

In its statement announcing the closure, Bridon-Bekaert Ropes Group said that all North American and manufacturing and servicing activities are going to be centralized in Wilkes-Barre (Pennsylvania, U.S.) and Oakland City (Indiana, U.S.). The Group gave all the excuses under the sun to attempt to justify the closure, -- structural changes in the industry, the effect of COVID-19 on the economy, improvement of competitiveness, among others.

None of this explains or justifies the decision. It hides the fact that Canadians do not set the direction of their own economy which has become integrated into the U.S. economy and war machine. While the Biden administration will continue to push "Buy American," there are those in Canada who are pushing to become part of "Buy American" by integrating the economy further into that of the U.S. such that all regulations adopted in the U.S. will apply in Canada as well. It also hides the fact that how to modernize production using the innovations of the technological and scientific revolution should be human-centred, not serve narrow private interests which then declare there is no alternative. Those who own whole parts of the economy are competing over control of what they call "structural changes," blaming the closure on this and that as part of the cutthroat competition between rival private entities which is wrecking people's lives and their economies. The company's excuses are to present the closure as a fait accompli. Meanwhile the government of Quebec certainly does not want any discussion on how to build a self-reliant industry that would contribute to a stable economy organized to meet the needs of the people, not of the global oligarchs and their aim of narrow private profit at the expense of everything else.

Workers are opposing the self-serving justification put forward by the global owners: "There are 105 families who risk losing their livelihood," said Patrick Boissé, the Treasurer of the Syndicat des travailleurs de Câbles d'acier, in a conversation with Workers' Forum. "It is a shock and a slap in the face because we kept being told that we are a centre of excellence in the production of steel cables. Our workers have tremendous expertise and experience. We have many workers who have 40 or more years of service and the plant is also making money. We are losing economic flagships to the U.S. We may actually be the only plant left in Quebec that is still producing steel cables for Hydro-Quebec. If we close, it may be that only U.S. plants will produce these cables for Hydro-Quebec. We cannot let these things carry on."

Workers reject the argument that was given to them by local management that there is no alternative to the owners' decision to centralize all North American production in U.S. cities because of the U.S. government's "Buy American" policy or that Quebec and Canada should be part of "Buy American." This is not an argument that workers and people can accept because they reject the integration of Canada into the U.S. empire. Quebec and Canadian workers fight for nation-building in which they are masters of their own affairs.

Workers' Forum supports the stand of the Cable Steel plant workers that the plant must remain open.

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