August 2014 Archives

Robyn Benson, PSAC

Life in the EI swamp

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Since I last blogged about Employment Insurance, the situation for ordinary Canadians has become even worse. And it’s been less than two months!

The latest statistics reveal that the number of unemployed Canadians receiving EI benefits has reached an all-time low—36.6%. When you take a look at individual municipalities in 1997 and now in 2014, there have been some significant drops. Hamilton has taken the hardest hit, with the number of unemployed receiving benefits cut nearly in half.

Under restrictive new rules introduced by the Harper government, working people who have paid into the EI fund for years receive no assistance when they find themselves jobless. Sure, they can always appeal, and then wait more than a year for a hearing. There used to be 1,000+ part-time referees to hear their cases: that’s now down to fewer than 70 people, trying to handle a backlog of 10,000 appeals. And after a lengthy delay, more than 80% of claimants lose their appeals anyway. Small wonder, we might think: the new EI appeals tribunal members are Conservative appointees, and several have donated money to the Conservative party.

New EI policies, designed to hurt rather than help; new appeal mechanisms, rigged against claimants; and employee cuts everywhere, made without rhyme or reason across the public service, as the Parliamentary Budget Office has just reported. And those cuts are far from over.

This is obviously a recipe for disaster from an unemployed person’s point of view. But it’s no picnic for our front-line workers in charge of the EI programs, either. All too frequently they get blamed for the bad policies they are required to administer. Yet it is government-created backlogs and delays and tight new rules that are the problem here, even if that very government has pointed the finger at its own employees on occasion to cover up its poor decision-making, and gone after conscientious whistle-blowers who object to being ordered to treat EI claimants unfairly.

These front-line federal government employees are workers too. There are opportunities here to build alliances, as we have in the recent past, between our members and those whom they serve. Our EI administrators have the latest information on the maze of rules and regulations that unemployed Canadians now need to navigate to qualify for assistance. They know who will be adversely affected, and how.

For example, part-time workers who establish an EI claim have to search for full-time employment to receive benefits, regardless of their circumstances, such as the availability of child-care. No one enjoys having to enforce that kind of discriminatory policy. And the same slashes and cutbacks that have made unemployed Canadians wait far too long for the benefits to which they are entitled are hurting our members, who are struggling to do their best to help those in need with massively increased workloads and sizeable backlogs to clear.

It’s pretty easy to see how common cause can be made here. This Labour Day, we should re-commit ourselves to forging these natural alliances between ourselves and the general public. We’re in for a challenging few months with the current round of collective bargaining—maybe the toughest period we’ve ever experienced as a union. But we’re not facing this government alone. Countless Canadians have their own reasons to want the Harper government gone, and can’t wait until the federal election next year. Time to join forces, folks. We’re going to need each other.

Well, maybe not the 1%.

On August 21-24, Ottawa will be hosting a meeting of hundreds of different progressive organizations and thousands of participants in a Peoples’ Social Forum. We’ll be taking part in workshops, presentations and panels, attending arts and cultural events, and joining demonstrations and assemblies over the four days.

It’s going to be big and it’s going to be spirited.

It’s a rare opportunity to meet like-minded folks and work towards building a common front against the Harper government, its policies and its deeply damaging actions. Millions of Canadians have been adversely affected by this government: it’s time to push back and reclaim our country.

For PSAC members who are already social justice activists, there’s no place you’d rather be! But the gathering would also be of interest to other members—including those who are always asking, “What does any of this have to do with the union?”

I’m hoping they might be curious enough to come out and ask their tough questions. What they hear might surprise them.

The PSAC is putting on four workshops at the conference:

  • The Face of Public Service Cuts: Impact on Equity and Community Groups
  • The Fight for Public Services, The Fight Against Inequality
  • Showdown with Stephen Harper: Confronting Austerity at the Bargaining Table
  • Rights of Mother Earth

The first one (9 am, Friday August 22 in the Vanier building, Room 1095) will delve into the impacts of public service cutbacks on equity and community groups. We’ll hear from representatives about the human impact of public service cuts on their communities.

I’ll be speaking at the second one, at 10:45 in the same room, along with the national leaders of NUPGE (representing provincial workers) and CUPE (representing municipal workers) about the contribution of public workers to greater equality by improving the lives of marginalized Canadians—the unemployed, the homeless, single parents, recent immigrants, senior citizens, and others. We and our counterparts at the provincial and municipal levels are the “social safety net.” We’re proud of the work we do, and we in the PSAC continue to oppose this government’s endless cuts, which are rapidly diminishing the public services we provide. Cuts and privatization don’t just affect the workers involved. They have a terrible impact upon vulnerable Canadians from coast to coast to coast.

That same afternoon, we’ll discuss our fightback at the bargaining table. We’ll also be taking part in an assembly on the last day, dealing with public services and Harper’s “austerity” agenda.

The Social Forum offers all participants a chance to explore our common vision of the Canada we want, and to develop a deeper understanding of how we can move forward together to make that vision a reality. The work we do in the public service is an essential ingredient, but we can’t fight all by ourselves. Building alliances is just like organizing a union—in our numbers there is strength. And a majority of Canadians have had a bellyful of inequality, social service cutbacks, and environmental devastation.

Had enough of all that yourself? You should go.

forum social des peuples.jpg

...sauf ce 1 % de la population canadienne.

Du 21 au 24 août 2014, Ottawa sera l'hôte du Forum social des peuples où convergeront des centaines d'organisations progressistes et des centaines de participants. Au cours des quatre jours du Forum, les militantes et militants pourront assister à des ateliers, des conférences, des débats d'experts, des activités artistiques et culturelles et participer à des manifestations et des assemblées de cuisine.

Croyez-moi, ce sera un rassemblement historique, mémorable et inspirant!

Il est rare que l'on ait une telle occasion de rencontrer autant de gens à la fois qui partagent une vision commune et qui travaillent à un but commun : se débarrasser du gouvernement Harper et de ses politiques si néfastes pour des millions de Canadiens et Canadiennes. Il est donc grand temps de montrer la porte à Harper et de reprendre notre pays en main.

Pour les membres de l'AFPC qui militent déjà activement pour la justice sociale, je suis certaine que vous serez au rendez-vous! Pour ceux et celles qui se demandent toujours quel rapport il y a entre les syndicats et ce genre d'événement, j'espère que leur curiosité les poussera à s'y rendre et à poser de « vraies » questions. Les réponses qu'on leur donnera risque bien de les surprendre.

Les quatre ateliers animés par l'AFPC porteront sur les thèmes suivants :

  • Coupes à la fonction publique : leur impact sur les groupes communautaires et les groupes d'équité
  • La lutte pour les services publics : une bataille pour l'égalité
  • Les négos : un combat contre Harper et l'austérité
  • Les droits de la Terre Mère

Le premier atelier, « Coupes à la fonction publique », se tiendra le vendredi 22 août, à 9 h dans la salle 1095 de l'Édifice Vanier. Des porte-paroles de divers groupes décriront l'impact des compressions sur leurs groupes respectifs.

Le deuxième atelier, « La lutte pour les services publics : une bataille pour l'égalité » aura lieu à 10 h 45 dans la même salle. J'aurai le plaisir de l'animer de concert avec les leaders du SNEGSP (représentant des fonctionnaires provinciaux) et du SCFP (représentant des fonctionnaires municipaux). Nous parlerons de la contribution des travailleuses et travailleurs de la fonction publique à l'instauration d'une plus grande égalité et à l'amélioration de la vie des Canadiennes et Canadiens marginalisés (les chômeurs, les sans-abri, les familles monoparentales, les nouveaux immigrants, les personnes âgées, etc.). Désormais, l'AFPC et les autres syndicats de fonctionnaires fédéraux, provinciaux et municipaux sont le « filet de sécurité sociale ». Nous sommes fiers de notre travail et nous continuons, au sein de l'AFPC, à lutter contre la diminution progressive des services publics offerts par nos membres à la population canadienne. Les conséquences néfastes de ces compressions et de la privatisation ne touchent pas seulement les fonctionnaires, mais aussi les Canadiens les plus vulnérables, et ce, d'un océan à l'autre.

Au cours de l'après-midi du 22 août, nous discuterons de nos moyens de riposte à la table de négociation. Nous participerons également à l'assemblée prévue durant la dernière journée du Forum pour aborder le thème des services publics et du programme d'austérité de Harper.

Le Forum social offre à tous les participants et participantes une occasion d'explorer un projet commun de société et d'approfondir les moyens d'en faire une réalité. Le travail que nous accomplissons dans la fonction publique est un ingrédient essentiel, mais nous ne pouvons pas mener la lutte seuls. Nous devons bâtir des alliances comme nous avons bâti nos syndicats : grâce à la solidarité! Il faut dire qu'une grande majorité de Canadiens en ont plus qu'assez des inégalités, des coupes dans les services publics et de la détérioration de l'environnement!

Et vous, en avez-vous assez de tout ça? Si oui, venez au Forum.

Robyn Benson, PSAC

Pay equity: 75 years away?

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women pay equity.jpg

At the current snail's pace of improvement, says a recent report by Oxfam-Canada (summary here), pay equity for women worldwide will be achieved--in 75 years or so. Can't wait! No, seriously, folks. We can't.

Canada's nine million wage-earning women are now earning 71% of what men make, even if women do better in unionized workplaces. But cheer up! We're doing better than the average country in the G20--a group of the world's most developed countries. Feel better? Well, I don't.

In every part of the world, women are fighting for social and economic equality. Some of us may be better off than others, but it's still a struggle to be recognized as equals. And here at home, our progress has been stalled for many years.

Our own fight for pay equity is a perfect example of what women are up against. We spent years taking on past governments to win a historic pay equity payout in 1998 of more than $3 billion for 200,000 past and current members of the PSAC, and we've been fighting more pay equity battles ever since. But the Harper government has made its opposition to women's equality crystal clear.

Almost as soon as the Conservatives won their first election in 2006, they've hacked away at gender equality. Besides scrapping a national childcare plan, they closed most Status of Women offices, and de-funded the Court Challenges program that helped women and minorities fight for their rights under the Charter. So deep is the government's dislike of equality that it even struck the word "equality itself from Status of Women Canada's mandate!

On pay equity specifically, the government changed the law in 2009 to make complaints almost impossible to file. They can no longer be made to the Canadian Human Rights Commission, but must be sent to the Public Service Labour Relations Board, which has little experience in these cases. And only individuals may take a case to the PSLRB: unbelievably, unions are threatened with heavy fines if they help or even encourage a member to do this.

The current law makes unions and the employer equally responsible for achieving pay equity at the bargaining table. In other words, human rights, once something we were supposedly born with, are now a matter of negotiation. And, if the employer fails to pay up on pay equity, the union is now blamed for not forcing them to. That's the law--a true cat and mouse game.

In a way, though, making it illegal to help our members, and then blaming us when we don't, is a backhanded compliment to the unions. The government knows that we have been in the front lines on this issue. They know that unionized workplaces are more equitable than non-unionized ones. The current government has had to resort to drastic legal measures in response.

But we're not about to accept anything of the kind. We don't bargain human rights. We demand them. And there's no way we'll accept that 75-year delay, either.

Women can't afford to wait. And we won't.

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from August 2014 listed from newest to oldest.

July 2014 is the previous archive.

September 2014 is the next archive.

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