October 2014 Archives

Robyn Benson, PSAC

C-377 rises from the grave

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It's back.

People will recall the battle over anti-union Bill C-377, another one of those "Private Members' Bills" that gets full approval and support from the Harper government's front office. This one was so grossly discriminatory and unconstitutional that the Conservative-dominated Senate, in a rare move, amended it to the point of shredding it and sent it back to the House of Commons. To what I imagine was Harper's dismay, 15 Conservatives joined with Conservative Senator (and mover of the amendments) Hugh Segal, and six more of them abstained from the vote. That's how bad the thing was.

The amended bill should have gone back to the House of Commons, but Parliament was prorogued before that could happen, so under the rules, the Bill ended up back in the Senate, unamended. Not a scratch on it. Bad as new.

It sat around for a year or so, but is now under Senate consideration. And by no coincidence at all, Harper Conservatives in the Senate are moving quickly to change the rules in their favour. Private Members' Bills are presently open to free debate in the Senate. But the Conservatives want to impose time allocation on those debates so they can whisk the legislation through.

For those who have forgotten what C-377 contains, here's a refresher:

  • C-377 is discriminatory, targeting labour organizations specifically. No other association, corporation or non-profit organization in Canada is required to submit to this level of intrusion, even organizations like the Fraser Institute which actively lobby the government against unions.
  • C-377 is not about "transparency." Unions are already required by law to provide regular, detailed financial reports of assets, liabilities, income and expenditures to their memberships. C-377 not only requires labour organizations to file an additional twenty-one reports that would chew up enormous union resources to produce, but to pass on all of that information to the Minister of Revenue for public posting.
  • Privacy rights are ignored in C-377. Highly detailed personal information would be forcibly publicized, such as medical benefits covered for individual employees, who would be publicly identified.
  • Union strategy would be forcibly publicized to employers. But there would be no such requirement for those employers to disclose back. As Senator Hugh Segal said last year, "How about a law that forced my political party to disclose its campaign, travel, research and advertising budgets to the Liberal Party of Canada or to the NDP two weeks before the election was called? Perhaps Coca-Cola should be forced to disclose to Pepsi its marketing plan and expenditures over $5,000."
  • C-377 covers all labour organizations, big or small. Union Locals, usually run by part-time volunteers, would also have to research, produce and file all this paperwork. The same would go for labour councils, federations, union committees and other labour bodies. Failure to comply would mean heavy fines.

Segal rightly described Bill C-377 as "immature, ill-conceived and small-minded." Nothing has changed, except that he has since retired: his strong pro-union voice in the Senate will not be heard during the current debates. But you can make sure yours is. Let's put a stake through C-377's heart once and for all, before it begins to feed.

Robyn Benson, PSAC

RIP Cpl. Nathan Frank Cirillo

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As I read in the news that Cpl. Nathan Frank Cirillo will be laid to rest today, the dreadful events of a few days ago are still fresh in my mind.

My heart goes out to the family of the 24-year old Corporal, unarmed, murdered while standing ceremonial honour guard over the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. In particular I think of this single father’s son, sitting in kindergarten at the time, and the impossibility that he can even begin to understand what just happened to his world.

Thousands of our members and many others who found themselves under lockdown in downtown Ottawa for the better part of a day kept their composure and waited for the grim and careful police work to end. I salute the bravery of all of those involved in bringing this horror to a halt.

This was a traumatic event, but we shall recover from it. I do not believe that Canada, or Ottawa, has changed. We are today who we were a few days ago, if sadder and more apprehensive. Let us mourn and let us ensure that we do not allow these terrible events to diminish the free and inclusive character of our country.

Robyn Benson, PSAC

Good jobs for all

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This past weekend I attended the Good Jobs Summit, organized and hosted by our sister union Unifor, with several partners, including the Canadian Federation of Students, Ryerson University and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

In Unifor's words, they wanted to start "a national conversation on how we create good jobs in Canada. We know there are solutions to the stagnating economy, growing precariousness and few opportunities for young people. Together we can find them."

The fact that such a summit had to be pulled together by the community indicates just how far removed the Harper government is when it comes to solving economic and social problems--problems that are getting worse.

Canada is in the middle of a jobs crisis: we just don't have enough jobs that provide a secure income, decent wages and reasonable benefits. Instead, the labour market is being flooded with precarious work. Young workers and new Canadians are increasingly hard done by when it comes to secure employment, and women continue to earn on average 30% less than men. We continue to see widespread abuses: illegal unpaid labour, for example, and a deliberate strategy to exploit temporary workers in order to drive down wages.

Harper and his corporate friends may want us and our children to live this nightmare, but we aren't about to let them get their way without a fight. I spoke at the Summit about public services and public workers, and the erosion of our rights and working conditions. I explained that the PSAC is bringing to this round of bargaining with the federal Treasury Board proposals to hold on to jobs and to improve the quality of work life in the public service. We want more good jobs in Canada for the workers of today, and we want them to be there for the workers of tomorrow.  Good jobs in the public sector help the economy, and they also make sure that there are qualified workers in place to deliver high quality services to the public.

Despite greater total wealth than ever before, our country offers a bleak future for young people. Rather than working to create good jobs with decent working conditions, our government preaches austerity. Rather than trying to set an example with its own employees, it hacks away at its workforce, cutting thousands of jobs (and therefore public services) and replacing permanent jobs with term employment. As for working conditions, it's presently trying to abolish paid sick leave, and it passed measures a year ago to gut health and safety rights in federal workplaces. And our pensions may be next on the chopping block.

The situation is urgent, and the only fix is for unions, student and youth organizations, anti-poverty groups and others to unite and organize for change.  Unifor's job summit brought more than one thousand people together to talk about the problem, and there was strong consensus on what has to happen. We need to push for stronger legislated employment standards, more public investment in both physical and social infrastructure, and more emphasis on green job creation. 

We need stronger public procurement policies, so that governments turn to Canadian manufacturers when they need trains, buses or light rail.  That means we need to fight giveaway trade deals like the one proposed with Europe, because those agreements will make it much more difficult for every level of government to insist that those with whom they do business create jobs in Canada. 

But to really make change we need more than good ideas about what we want government and others to do. We have to build a powerful movement that demands action. There was agreement at the Summit that this is the logical next step, and that regional and local forums on good jobs will shortly be organized.  PSAC must be a part of those further meetings, and we must continue to point out that the public sector and public sector unions can play a central role in this movement for good jobs.

The national conversation has begun--and as far as I'm concerned we can't move to action quickly enough.


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This Saturday marks the 9th annual cross-Canada vigil by Sisters In Spirit (SIS), to raise awareness and demand action for missing and murdered First Nations, Inuit and Métis women and girls. The PSAC, and our Aboriginal Peoples Circle, stands in solidarity with SIS, and with the Native Women’s Association of Canada, in demanding a national public inquiry into these many deaths and disappearances. Last year there were 216 local vigils held in Canada and around the world. Check out the time and location of the 2014 vigils here.

Amnesty International has offered strong support. And the Canadian Labour Congress, its affiliates and federations of labour are entirely behind this campaign, urging full support for the vigil. The CLC is circulating a petition to the Conservative government to hold the inquiry, one that indigenous people would lead.

It should be obvious why a public inquiry is necessary. The death toll has been catastrophic. The problem is much too large to be dealt with piecemeal. Yet Stephen Harper and his government have gone out of their way to obstruct the efforts of indigenous peoples in Canada to find a comprehensive solution.

Sisters in Spirit began the task of documenting the many deaths and disappearances. They compiled a database of nearly 600 missing and murdered women and girls—before Harper cut their funding in 2010. A new coalition has arisen in response, No More Silence, and is continuing that grim work. The RCMP, for its part, found nearly 1,200 cases of missing or murdered indigenous women and girls between 1980 and 2012—and the real total may be much higher.

The fact is that we must have a fuller understanding of the many causes of this horrific toll of indigenous women and girls, 3.5 times more likely than non-indigenous women to be murdered by spouses, ex-partners or a family member, and seven times more likely to die at the hands of an acquaintance. And we need a comprehensive national action plan to save lives in the future—a plan that the government has consistently failed to deliver. As Amnesty’s Alex Neve and Beverley Jacobs note, this on-going violence “has to be understood in the context of centuries of dispossession, marginalization and impoverishment of indigenous women, their families and their communities; as well as the ongoing paternalistic relationship between indigenous peoples and the Canadian state.”

Recently, we’ve heard a lot about non-apology apologies: there was Paul Calandra in the House of Commons, apologizing for not answering a question—while saying it would likely happen again. And there was SunTV, apologizing for Ezra Levant’s hateful attack on Justin Trudeau and his family, just before Levant was back on-air, looking anything but contrite. But all of this pales in comparison with Stephen Harper’s apology to indigenous people for the residential school tragedy.

Since he delivered it, we have seen nothing but government opposition to indigenous peoples on every front.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, set up in the wake of Harper’s statement, had to go to court to gain access to crucial documents, delaying its report by a full year.

Indigenous children still do not receive the same per capita social service funding as non-indigenous children. A case has been before the courts for years to put this right: but the Harper government has spent literally millions of dollars to defend this inequality, and the complainant, children’s advocate Cindy Blackstock, was stalked by government officials for much of that time.

A heart-rending struggle to obtain services for a badly disabled child led to the government’s spending hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to refuse it. Losing in court, the government vowed to appeal, and changed its mind only this past July.

Canada was one of the last countries to sign on to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Last month, at a high-level UN conference that Harper refused to attend, Canada tried to walk that back, standing alone in opposition to a statement reaffirming support for it.

Something is very wrong here, to put it mildly. And the government’s stubborn refusal to hold a public inquiry into murdered and missing indigenous women and girls is only a part of it.

By attending the October 4 vigil, however, ordinary non-indigenous Canadians will demonstrate that they are rejecting this continued stonewalling. By itself, a public inquiry will do little, of course, without the political will to follow through on its findings. But it’s a start—a good start—and in the spirit of reconciliation, I urge our members to attend. It’s literally a matter of life and death.

[Photocredit: Amnesty International]

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

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