Labour News Update: 25 November 2013

Workplace safety rules will ‘kill people’, union says

By Chris Cobb, Ottawa Citizen, November 20, 2013

Proposed changes to a federal labour law governing worker safety are diluting a good system for no reason and will “kill people,” a national labour union official charged Wednesday.

The comments from Agricultural Union president Bob Kingston were part of a blistering attack on labour law changes that are embedded in the federal government’s omnibus budget Bill C-4.

However federal Labour Minister Kellie Leitch and her office are strenuously contesting the union’s interpretation of the changes, and insist they are meant only to streamline an overburdened system.

Kingston told reporters that the bill gives the minister legal right to dismiss any safety complaint that results in a worker refusing to work and to do so without any investigation. That perceived reduction in oversight is frightening, he said.

“I don’t believe parliamentarians understand what’s in this bill,” Kingston said, “and I don’t blame the minister. I think she has been seriously misled by some of her staff. I don’t think she’s aware of some of these changes. If this goes through it is going to kill people. It’s as simple as that.”

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Turning Back the Clock 50 Years: Bill C-4 and federal workers

Larry Rousseau, Huffingtonpost.com, November 23, 2013

Stuffed into the 309-page Conservative budget implementation act, Bill C-4, that was tabled last month, are a slew of drastic changes to the federal labour relations system, which will affect the health and safety provisions, human rights protections, and collective bargaining rights of federal workers. As its number suggests, Bill C-4 is truly explosive.

On the health and safety front, the government is changing the Canada Labour Code to limit the rights of workers to refuse unsafe work, and also doing away with independent health and safety officers, relegating their responsibilities to political appointees of “the Minister.”

Meanwhile, another part of the bill will alter the Public Service Labour Relations Act (PSRLA) to prevent federal public service workers from accessing the Canadian Human Rights Commission and Tribunal over workplace discrimination complaints. Workers facing discrimination will instead have to file their complaint directly with their employer, which would have the power to promptly dismiss it for “being trivial, frivolous, vexatious or made in bad faith.”

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ILO Finds Harper Tories Guilty of Breaking International Law (Again)

National Union of Public and General Employees, November 8, 2013

The International Labour Organization (ILO) Committee on Freedom of Association has found the Canadian Conservative Government guilty of contravening ILO conventions on Freedom of Association, the Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining in its Bill C-33, the so-called Protecting Air Services Act of March, 2012. This Act took away the right to strike from both the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW) and Pilots Union (ACPA) at Air Canada.

Canada has one of the worst rankings of member states of the ILO on labour rights

Since 1982, Canada’s record with respect to the number of complaints submitted to the ILO’s Freedom of Association Committee is one of the worst of the 183 member States of the ILO, with unions in Canada filing more complaints than the national labour movements of any other country. There have been 85 ILO complaints filed against Canadian federal and provincial labour legislation since 1982. Of those 85 complaints, the ILO has ruled on 80 cases and found that freedom of association principles had been violated in 73 of the cases.

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Heinz to close Leamington plant, 740 employees affected

Factory, which opened in 1909, is the second-largest Heinz plant in the world.

, Toronto Star, November 14, 2013

In Leamington, Ont., a town synonymous with tomatoes and ketchup, Heinz Canada announced Thursday it is closing its century-old plant, throwing 740 people out of work.

Company officials called employees to a meeting Thursday afternoon, where they were told that the last production run of giant plant, which makes everything from ketchup to condiments and baby food to tomato juice, would be in mid-year 2014.

The move comes just months after Heinz was taken private by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway and the Brazilian investment firm 3G Capital in a $23.3 billion deal.

Heinz also announced two other plant closings in South Carolina and Idaho, affecting 610 more employees.

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Court Hears Lone Dissenter

By Dale Smith, Blacklock’s Reporter, November 4, 2013

The Supreme Court will hear an appeal by an unhappy civil servant who sued to prevent her union from calling her house.

Elizabeth Bernard, an employee of the Canada Revenue Agency from 1991, repeatedly filed applications to prevent public service unions from sending information to her home or contacting her by email.

“It is an interesting and I would say an important case,” said Prof. Pamela Chapman of the University of Ottawa. “This issue about the scope of information that employees may provide to unions has been a recurring area in the law; it’s a constant struggle to balance.”

Bernard initially refused to join the Public Service Alliance of Canada, then declined to join the Professional Institute of the Public Service when she was promoted to a position as auditor. Bernard successfully argued a right to privacy in the Federal Court of Appeal, but lost a subsequent 2011 ruling by the Public Service Labour Relations Board.

The arbiter said unions needed a reliable means of contacting employees, and that turning over home information was valid if controlled.

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City of Regina, transit workers reach tentative deal

Terrence McEachern, Leader-Post, November 18, 2013

A tentative deal has been reached between the City of Regina and its transit workers after mediation talks on the weekend.

Don Baker, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 588, said the goal is to have the union vote on the tentative deal by Dec. 1.2013-11-24 22.50.46

If the union approves the agreement, it will be sent to Regina city council for final approval.

Mediation began on Friday at 7 a.m. and resumed the next morning. At around 8 p.m. Saturday, a tentative deal had been reached, said Baker.

Pete Suderman, executive director with the province’s Ministry of Labour Relations and Workplace Safety, served as mediator.

“All in all, Peter Suderman was fair. He had meetings with both sides and we were going to get a deal done one way or another,” he said.

Baker couldn’t comment on the particulars of the tentative deal while it is still in the approval process. However, he did say there was “a lot of stuff left on the table that the city still has to deal with,” such as morale issues.

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Pension Funds, Unions, and Working Class Strategies – session 4: Pension Funds and Privatization: P3s and pension-financed privatization

November 15, 2013

Checkout the speakers’ series on-line, at the Socialistproject.ca.

Nearly all of the largest pension funds in Canada have moved aggressively into financing what they call “infrastructure,” or “alternative asset classes” that include various kinds of public infrastructure that have been either privatized outright (as the UK’s Royal Mail was several weeks ago) or restructured into a “partnership” structure which, critics argue, produces guaranteed (and monopolistic) profits for private owners and managers of infrastructure, with many of the risks still borne by government or public sector entities. These have come to be identified as “public private partnerships” or simply P3s.

What, if anything, should we be doing about this? What are political parties, including the NDP, doing and saying about these developments? How do they relate to the larger dangers of neoliberalism and austerity – and how do we resist them? Click here to view complete outline.

Moderated by Kevin Skerrett. Presentations by:

  • Natalie Mehra – Ontario Health Coalition
  • Brian O’Keefe – trustee on the Sponsors Board of OMERS (Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System)

1 in 4 new jobs in Alberta filled through Temporary Foreign Worker Program, shows new data for 2013

Employers getting the green light for TFWs even when there are 2.3 unemployed Albertans for every job vacancy

Alberta Federation of Labour, November 21, 2013

The president of Alberta’s largest worker advocacy group released new figures today, showing Alberta’s robust labour market is leaving some Albertans out in the cold.

For the first six months of 2013, the Alberta labour market grew by 81,300 jobs. During that same period, 21,412 temporary foreign workers (TFWs) were brought to work in Alberta.

“The economy is growing at a reasonable pace, but there was a temporary foreign worker brought to Alberta for 26% of those jobs,” says Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour.

At the same time, Statistics Canada reported yesterday there are 2.3 unemployed Albertans for every vacant job.

McGowan says the 2012 figures for Alberta are even more shocking.

The Alberta economy grew by 54,900 new jobs in 2012. However, there were 35,680 temporary foreign workers brought to Alberta that year, meaning there was a temporary foreign worker brought to Alberta for 65% of new jobs in the economy.

McGowan added that the above figures represent only those TFWs who arrived in Alberta in 2012. There were 68,339 total TFWs present in Alberta in 2012, or 124% of new jobs created in the province that year.

The AFL President reiterated his call for the Temporary Foreign Worker Program to be scrapped in favour of comprehensive immigration reform that would see foreign workers come to Canada as permanent residents.

Sources: Statistics Canada, Labour Force Survey, CANSIM Tables 282-0001 and 282-0002. Government of Canada, Citizenship and Immigration, Quarterly Data Release.

Check out the Alberta Federation of Labour website for more information.

Job vacancies in brief, three-month average ending in August 2013

Statistics Canada, November 2013

In August, there were 219,000 job vacancies among Canadian businesses, a decline of 51,000 compared with August 2012. There were 6.4 unemployed people for every job vacancy, up from 5.2 one year earlier. The increase in the ratio of unemployment to job vacancies was all the result of the decline in job vacancies.

The national job vacancy rate was 1.5% in August, down from 1.8% 12 months earlier.

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Pension reforms have union support, Higgs says

CBC News, November 19, 2013

The Alward government says it has “substantial union support” for public sector pension changes it introduced in the legislature Tuesday, even as a group of retirees continue to battle against the reforms.

The changes call for big hikes to how much employees will now have to contribute and how long it will take to qualify.

Even so, Finance Minister Blaine Higgs said he has garnered the support of unions representing two-thirds of the bargaining positions in the Public Service Superannuation Act (PSSA).

The pension plan is currently facing a $1-billion deficit, which is expected to grow. The government wants to move to a shared-risk model so taxpayers don’t have to top up the fund in years when it loses money.

The province says a shared-risk model will make sure current employees have a secure pension when they retire, and that retirees will see their pensions grow with cost of living.

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Union can videotape picket line, Supreme Court rules in privacy case

Jeff Gray and Jordan Fletcher, The Globe and Mail, November 15, 2013

The Supreme Court of Canada has struck down a portion of Alberta’s privacy legislation, saying it violated a union’s right to free speech by blocking its ability to videotape workers crossing a picket line.

Legal observers say the unanimous decision on Friday could have far-reaching implications for unions, businesses and the manner in which courts balance competing rights to privacy and free expression.

The Supreme Court gave the Alberta Legislature a year to rewrite the province’s Personal Information Protection Act, which it said restricted the union’s right “to communicate and persuade the public of its cause.” It said the restriction was not justified by the legislature’s goal to provide individuals with greater control over their personal information.

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Details about the decision can be found at Lancaster House.

A higher wage is possible

Catherine Ruetschlin and Amy TraubDemos, November 19, 2013

American workers are working harder for less, with productivity rising but living standards stagnant or declining.1At the same time, stock market wealth and incomes for the highest-paid Americans have risen.2 Against this backdrop, the pay practices of the nation’s largest private employer have come under increased scrutiny. Walmart, with 1.3 million U.S. employees and $17 billion in annual profits, sets standards for all other retailers and across the supply chain of one of the nation’s fastest growing industries.3 Walmart’s practices impact the public sector and taxpayers as well when employees earn too little to meet their needs and require public assistance.4 Finally, Walmart is a leader in promoting an employment model in which workers earn too little to generate the consumer demand that supports hiring and would lead to economic recovery. In the last year, Walmart employees themselves have been increasingly vocal in protesting their low pay. Since the last holiday season, Walmart employees in stores throughout the country have repeatedly spoken out in pursuit of a modest wage goal: the equivalent of $25,000 a year in wages for a full-time employee.

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Four Things We Learn From Wal-Mart’s Bangladesh Factory Audit

By Susan Berfield, Business Week, November 19, 2013

After the Rana Plaza fire in Bangladesh killed more than 1,100 garment workers in April, all of the big European apparel retailers (and some American ones, too) signed on to a binding agreement to work with labor organizations and other groups to improve safety conditions at the factories they use. Wal-Mart (WMT) andGap (GPS), among other American retailers, formed a separate alliance that isn’t quite as demanding.

Walmart on its own released the results of its first round of factory audits on Nov. 18. Here’s what a close read reveals…

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Ventra Capitalists

By Tyler Zimmer, The Jacobin, November 21, 2013

In recent years, Chicagoans have been forced to endure more than our fair share of privatization deals gone awry.

In 2005, the city privatized a highly trafficked toll-bridge and now it’s the costliest stretch of road in the country. In 2008, city hall rammed through a deal that turned over Chicago’s parking meters for 75 years to a coterie of big-money investors lead by Morgan Stanley. The new private owners quadrupled parking rates weeks after the deal went through, and the city has to pay them for lost revenue whenever the streets are closed for parades or block parties. Then there’s the long-term project of shutting down the city’s public schools and turning them over to scandal-prone private operators who stand accused of using millions of public dollars for personal gain.

But while these privatization debacles have been hard to stomach, Ventra — the new, privatized fare collection system for transit in Chicago — has been nothing short of a complete disaster.

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University of California workers strike against harassment

By Samantha Winslow, Labor Notes, November 20, 2013

More than 22,000 University of California campus workers and service and technical workers in the system’s medical centers are striking today, claiming harassment and intimidation by management. They are joined by 13,000 sympathy-striking graduate students in a one-day strike.

UC tried a last-minute legal maneuver to stop the strike—claiming it would put patients at risk—but a Sacramento Superior Court judge upheld the right to strike. The union’s 50-worker task force will be on call to fill in during the strike in case of medical emergencies.

The medical center workers—including X-ray, laboratory, and surgical technicians, patient care assistants, housekeepers, and cafeteria workers, among others—previously struck for two days in May. This time, they joined forces with university campus workers such as custodians and groundskeepers, who are in the same union but have a separate contract.

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