December 2014 Archives

Robyn Benson, PSAC


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To call this past year challenging for the PSAC would be an understatement that our members would shake their heads at. I can safely say that we have never faced anything like the year through which we have nearly passed.

Not since our founding in 1966 has our union been confronted by a government so eager to roll back what we have accomplished over those many years, whether it’s sick leave, health and safety protections, the right to conduct fair collective bargaining, to carry on union business without a government-imposed burden of paperwork and reporting requirements, even the basic right to unionize in the first place.

Meanwhile, massive and continuing job cuts have become the norm, threatening public services across the country. As we know, our veterans in particular have been targeted by the Harper government, but they are far from alone—for example, ask any EI claimant who has had to wait months for benefits or is one of the increasing number of those disqualified altogether. Overall, the effects have been devastating: at this link is a run-down of services that have already been negatively affected by the government’s slashing and burning.

But—and here’s what we really need to emphasize—we have taken none of this lying down, and we even scored, or helped to score, some victories along the way. The big one for labour was wiping out Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak in the recent Ontario elections. Many of our own members in Ontario worked hard to ensure that this anti-union “right to work” (for less) politician would not be the next premier of the province. But it wasn’t rhetoric that defeated him. It took countless hours of hard work and solid on-the-ground organizing.

To be frank, I think of this as a dry run for the 2015 federal election in the Fall. The Hudak agenda and the Harper agenda don’t differ much: slashing public services, breaking unions, rewarding their corporate friends on the backs of working people.

Even defending the basic rights of individual members in this political climate can be a major struggle—but we don’t back down. Fiona Johnstone, a member in the Canadian Border Security Agency (CBSA), just wanted reasonable accommodation to schedule her shift because she had a new baby. CBSA said no. The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal and the courts said otherwise. It took ten years (you read right) to fix this, but we didn’t let go. This was not only a victory for Sister Johnstone, but for countless others who need to balance work and family life.

Then there was Lorraine Martin, whose story I already told here. It took four years to put this right, the government spending goodness knows how many tax dollars resisting a routine request for clearly justified leave that had been denied without rhyme or reason. Imagine if there were no union in the workplace!

But there was. Strong members we have, and that makes a strong union. Multiply their determination across our ranks, and just think what we could achieve.

We’re going to need that determination, and then some, if we want things to change. Over the past year, we’ve continued to make links with the wider progressive movement in this country, hosting workshops at the Peoples’ Social Forum this past August and participating in the Childcare 2020 Conference last month. As far as collective bargaining goes, it’s been interesting so far, but we aren’t alone: all federal public service unions have agreed to hold the line on the key issue of sick leave.

Our Components and our Regional Councils have held their Conventions, and we’re now gearing up for the PSAC Triennial Convention in the Spring. We have two major things on our minds: a fair collective agreement—and a federal regime change in October.

Happy New Year? Well, in comparison to the one we’re leaving, it just might be. It’s up to us, though, and to millions like us.

Come on, everyone. We’ve got work to do.

Robyn Benson, PSAC

Tupper Tots shuts down

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Tupper Tots has closed its doors, leaving dozens of parents scrambling to find new childcare arrangements. Frankly, this closure angers me—and not just because essential daycare spaces are disappearing in a puff of smoke. There are times that a single event, perhaps small in the scheme of things, can reflect a problem with our entire society.

How many years has it been since we were promised a national childcare program? More than two decades, in fact—and it was first recommended in 1970. The Liberals promised to introduce it in their 1993 Red Book, then again in 1997, again in 2000 and once more in 2004. When the Conservatives first came into power in 2006, the whole idea was shelved.

The lack of adequate, affordable childcare in 2014 remains a Canadian scandal. It is unfair, and it costs us big in economic terms.

In 1997, Quebec began a limited childcare program: in 2004, it was extended to all preschoolers. By 2008, the program had brought 70,000 more mothers into the paid workforce—3.8% more women employed. This produced a $5 billion rise in Quebec’s Gross Domestic Product, which is well above the cost of the program—it was a howling success. But even in Quebec, which has pointed the way forward, the politics of “austerity” have now taken hold: under the new Liberal government, the cost to parents will rise, and the principle of universal access is threatened.

It’s two steps forward, one step back. And, in the case of Tupper Tots, it’s two steps back.

Here’s a little history. Back in 1989—a quarter-century ago—the PSAC and Treasury Board negotiated a letter of intent on workplace daycare, which, two years later, became a Treasury Board policy. For its time, this was quite an advance: there would be 10 new workplace centres with a $400,000 start-up budget for each centre, and a full rent subsidy. By 1998, there were actually 12 such centres in operation across Canada.

Tupper Tots was a model of its kind. It opened in 1994, with 50 childcare spaces, qualified early childhood education and care workers, and services in both English and French.

But in 2010, Public Works decided not to renew the lease. It retracted that decision, but in 2013 it struck a fatal blow, demanding $229,000 in rent, and forcing the centre to move to other premises that required $300,000 worth of renovations. Worse, Tupper Tots ended up having to pay two rents for six months, because the new location was not ready in time. Unable to obtain municipal funding, it declared bankruptcy last month, leaving a lot of parents up in the air and 12 child care workers unemployed.

Meanwhile, Treasury Board has announced that it will abolish its workplace childcare policy. This likely means that other centres, set up under that policy, will be closing as well.

These centres don’t come cheap, costing parents more than $1000 per child. Harper’s much-ballyhooed child tax benefit offers less than a tenth of that. And don’t even get me started on the government’s income-splitting nonsense, which benefits only well-to-do families.

All this in the wake of the Childcare 2020 Conference. Did I just say two steps forward, two steps back? More like four or five. The struggle continues.

[Photocredit: CBC]

Montreal memorial.jpg

Le progrès n'est pas toujours au rendez-vous, constate-t-on avec amertume. Depuis la tuerie de Polytechnique, il s'est écoulé un quart de siècle. Et depuis que le Parlement a adopté à l'unanimité la résolution d'Ed Broadbent visant à éliminer la pauvreté des enfants avant l'an 2000? Un quart de siècle.

La pauvreté des enfants n'a fait qu'empirer. Et la situation des femmes?

La triste vérité, c'est que la violence, ou la peur de la violence, hante encore beaucoup trop de Canadiennes. Cette violence est partie intégrante de l'inégalité : nous en avons fait du chemin, mais la route est encore longue.

Et la violence conjugale? La police semble ignorer sa propre politique, qui exige pourtant le dépôt d'accusations. Si moins d'accusations sont déposées, ça ne veut donc pas dire qu'il y a moins de violence. Au contraire, la violence conjugale demeure un problème préoccupant partout au pays, tant à la maison qu'au travail, comme nous le voyons de plus en plus. Le Congrès du travail du Canada vient de publier les résultats préliminaires de son étude pancanadienne sur la violence conjugale au travail. On y apprend que plus d'un tiers des répondantes ont souffert de violence conjugale à un moment ou l'autre de leur vie. Parmi celles qui la subissent encore, la moitié dit essuyer une telle violence là où elles travaillent, ou à proximité.

Parmi les victimes de violence conjugale, 82 % affirment que leur rendement au travail en est affecté. Plusieurs ne peuvent plus se rendre au travail, certaines ont même perdu leur emploi. Quel coût pour l'employeur? Environ 77,9 millions de dollars par an. Quel coût humain? Impossible à mesurer.

Et la violence sexuelle? Des statistiques catastrophiques témoignent de son ampleur. Et pourtant, les gens débattent encore sans ciller de ce qui constitue le « consentement ». Qu'est-il arrivé à « Non, c'est non! »? Serait-ce un concept trop compliqué à comprendre?

En effet, on est bien trop nombreux à continuer de croire qu'éviter la violence est la responsabilité des femmes, et non des agresseurs. On blâme encore la victime. En 2014.

Le scandale qui a secoué dernièrement la Colline du Parlement a éveillé le public aux problèmes de l'agression et du harcèlement sexuels. On a du mal à croire qu'aucune procédure n'y est en vigueur pour traiter ce genre d'allégations très graves. La responsabilité d'en formuler une a été confiée à un comité composé de neuf hommes et d'une seule femme . (Plutôt que de réinventer la roue, peut-être que le Parlement pourrait s'inspirer de l'expérience du mouvement syndical.)

En outre, le gouvernement Harper s'entête toujours à refuser une enquête publique sur un scandale national, le meurtre et la disparition de plus de 1 200 femmes autochtones.

J'assisterai à une vigile au parc Holland, à Victoria, en Colombie-Britannique, où les femmes, et notamment les consœurs de l'AFPC, ont réussi à faire ériger un monument aux femmes assassinées à Montréal. Pourtant, nous savons tous que se souvenir ne suffit pas.

Nous tous, consœurs et confrères, devons mieux faire connaître le problème, confronter la violence et le harcèlement, et renverser la vapeur pour que la violence qui blesse et qui tue tant de femmes cesse, un quart de siècle après l'horrible tuerie de Montréal. Seule notre action nous permettra de les honorer comme elles le méritent. Nous pleurons les morts, mais nous continuons de nous battre pour les vivants.

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A bitter lesson: things don’t always get better. 25 years have passed since the Montreal Massacre: 25 years have also passed since Parliament unanimously passed a resolution from Ed Broadbent to eliminate child poverty by the year 2000.

Child poverty is now worse than ever. How are things for women these days?

The sad truth is that violence—or the fear of it—remains a reality for far too many Canadian women. It’s part and parcel of inequality in general: if we’ve “come a long way, baby,” there are still countless miles to go.

Domestic assault? Police seem to be ignoring their own policy of mandatory charging: a significant drop in abuse charges does not mean that less abuse is happening. On the contrary, we know that it remains a major problem nationwide, in the home and, as we now learn, the workplace, too. The Canadian Labour Congress has just released preliminary findings of a cross-Canada survey on domestic violence: more than a third of those surveyed had suffered domestic assault at some time in their lives, and of those currently experiencing it, more than half continue to be abused in or near their workplaces.

82% of the victims of domestic violence said it has affected their job performance. It has prevented many of them from getting to work, and some have lost their jobs because of it. Cost to the employer? An estimated $77.9 million per year. The human cost? It can’t even be measured.

Sexual assault? The dismal statistics speak for themselves. But people are still seriously debating what “consent” means. Whatever happened to “No means no?” Is that too complicated a concept for people to grasp?

Far too many people still think that avoiding sexual assault is the responsibility of women, not their attackers. They’re still blaming the victims—in 2014.

Both sexual assault and sexual harassment have been thrown into public consciousness by the recent revelations now gripping the House of Commons. On Parliament Hill, unbelievably, no procedures are currently in place to deal with very serious allegations. Drafting them has been turned over to a committee of nine men—and one woman. (Rather than reinvent the wheel, perhaps we in the labour movement could teach them a thing or two about that.)

And to this day the Harper government stubbornly refuses to have a public inquiry into a national scandal—more than 1,200 murdered and missing Aboriginal women.

I’ll be attending a candlelight vigil in Holland Park in Victoria, B.C., where women, including strong PSAC sisters, have been successful in erecting a monument to the murdered women in Montreal. But we all know that remembering them is the least part of what we have to do.

All of us, sisters and brothers both, need to play our part in raising awareness, in confronting violence and harassment where it occurs, in turning back the tide of violence that scars and kills so many women still, a quarter century after that horrific event in Montreal. Only by our action will we properly honour them. We mourn for the dead; but we must, as always, fight for the living.

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