The Liberal Party should stand FOURSQUARE behind the Unions on Temp workers

Where is the Crimson Permanent Assurance when you need it?

Where is the Crimson Permanent Assurance when you need it?

I just popped over to National Newswatch, and I read a CBC article there about the Royal Bank eliminating the jobs of an entire department, and replacing those employees with Temporary Foreign workers imported from India. To add insult to injury, the employees being replaced are spending the last few weeks of their banking careers training the foreign workers that are replacing them.  In British Columbia, there has been a long running battle between the Unions and a Chinese owned Coal mining company. The mining company does not want to pay wages and benefits consistent with Canadian employment standards for this dangerous and dirty work, so they fiddled their hiring requirements to make fluency in Mandarin a job qualification, and brought in hundreds of ‘Temporary Foreign Workers’ from China for minimum wage. Actually, according to some reports, those temporary foreign workers purchase their jobs in China from ’employment agencies’. If there is any truth to the assertions that they pay BIG fees to their employers, they are actually earning a LOT less than minimum wage, to perform work that thousands of unemployed Canadians are fully qualified to do.

I very seldom post about issues, except as they pertain to building and growing the capacity to fight elections. It is definitely NOT because I do not care about any issues, it is because there is no shortage of people blogging or publishing about political issues of the day. Now these specific cases are just the tip of the iceberg. The terms and conditions between employees and employers are being dramatically altered in Canada, at a very fundamental level. There is an ideological war going on, where the mantra of  ‘efficiency ‘ and ‘economic growth’ is being abused to force working Canadians into a weaker and weaker bargaining position with their employers, right across the entire labour market. I simply cannot enumerate all the measures being enacted by the Conservative Government that will have significant impacts on the labour market, but here are a few of the fundamental shifts under way:

Employment Insurance ‘reforms’: How much really needs to be said about these reforms? If I had to characterise them, I would say that the intent is to reduce the bargaining power of job seekers. Recently un-employed Canadians are normally in a financial pickle. They have lost their weekly pay cheque, but they cannot discard their family and personal obligations so easily. Every measure that reduces their cash flows while job searching, and compresses the time they have to secure employment before their stop-gap EI cheques run out is designed to pressure them into accepting employment on worse terms than they otherwise might have been able to secure. A growing pool of desperate people has a fundamental and broad impact on employment conditions for ALL working Canadians. It isn’t complicated. If you have a good job, but there is an army of desperate un-employed people lined up to replace you, just exactly how will you respond when your employer informs you that they are taking away your pension benefits? Do you feel any pressure to surrender your pension so as to keep the paychecks coming in?

Temporary Foreign Worker programs: Well, what do you call a program that pretends that it is about securing skilled employees from overseas, but then allows the employer to pay minimum wages for those supposedly

But its Good for Business!

But its Good for Business!

highly skilled employees? I once hired a skilled worker from Hughes Aerospace in California. That employee had skills that were absolutely unique in the whole world. I paid a fortune in re-location costs, legal fees, and the Salary was oh-la-la. But that was OK, I got a unique skill set that allowed me to manufacture products for the space industry. THAT is the good that can come out of hiring skilled foreign workers. But the current Foreign Temporary worker program does not do anything like that. It opens up a floodgate for very cheap labour market entrants, whose terms of employment are restrictive at best, and approach indentured labour standards at their worst. The Federal Government has claimed numbers as low as 250,000 temp foreign workers are in Canada right now. Other credible sources claim as many as 500,000. It would be nice if we could believe our own Governments statistics, but the days of truthful statistics from the Federal Government are long gone, and Canadians are reduced to guessing whose lies are the most truthful in this day and age. Suffice it to say that over a quarter million positions have been sliced off the supply of jobs for Canadians. What is the impact? See my discussion about EI reforms above. More and more pressure on Canadian wage and salary earners. Fewer and fewer options to earn a buck while searching for a better job, because the quick and dirty jobs that can ease you through a rough patch are all in the hands of indentured workers. More downwards wage and benefits pressure, boy those clever Conservatives are really fixing the employment market aren`t they?

Right to Work legislation: Once upon a time, industrial and clerical workers were abused, and squeezed into inequitable employment conditions. Labour laws were wide open, job security non-existent, and large and small employers alike could dictate whatever they pleased to their employees. Then something happened that shifted the balance in favour of workers everywhere. The Trade union movement responded to those bound by the worst practices, and predatory employers. Without going into the history of the labour movement in Canada, there was a continual pressure applied to employers to improve the terms and conditions of employment. Those who failed to respond found themselves facing a Union drive, and the mere possibility of unionised workforces obliged the not so dumb organisations to pre-empt a union with ever improving labour standards. The existence of Unions in about 10% of the workforce acted as a spur, and pay scales and benefits came close to parity between unionised, and non-unionised shops. These improved working conditions led to the longest sustained economic boom in history. Ordinary working stiffs took on mortgages and bought homes of their own. Ordinary Canadians saved their pennies, and sent their children to Universities, which truly opened the doors to ALL the opportunities that this great country had to offer. Canadians have forgotten about just WHY those unions are an important part of our working lives. Any egregious prick who is skinning his or her employees could eventually expect Union organisers standing outside their doors, signing up members and showing them there IS something they can do about it. This last and final refuge for abused employees is under attack at this very moment. The so-called `right to work`legislation that the Conservative Government is itching to saddle us with, is designed to drive the last nail into the coffins of working Canadians everywhere. While Foreign Temporary workers, and restrictive EI benefits are direct manipulations of the labour market, Union busting is on a whole other plane of existence. It is all about eliminating recourse, and directly intervening in the underpinnings of our labour market by taking away the right of workers to say `no`to their employers. This is not just an assault on organised labour. Oh no, the worst afflicted will be those people who face intolerable conditions, and are no longer entitled to respond with a Union drive. The impact will not be subtle. Over time, workers WILL face more danger for less pay, less benefits, and far fewer opportunities for themselves and their children.

Canadas Temporary Foreign Worker program

Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker program

So you want to know what I think the Liberal Party should do about all this? I think they should grasp the nettle, publicly support the Union movement in support of a Union Registration drive on the Royal Bank. If the reports are true, then the Royal felt entitled to ignore labour law provisions, and replace skilled and well paid Canadians with imported workers that have minimal rights as employees. I mean, this stuff is really really fundamental to all of us. The equality of opportunity espoused by Liberals everywhere is being subsumed by an ideological hate-on for working and middle class Canadians. As much as the Unions are parochial, and self-centered, they have, without question, been integral to the rich and glorious way of life we all enjoy. When a truly massive employer such as the Royal Bank blatantly and conspicuously breaks the law, and employment standards to replace entire departments with indentured workers, something is seriously screwed up.

God, I can hardly believe what I am writing! Here am I, a fully fledged capitalist, red of tooth and claw urging union rights on my fellow Canadians! But you know something, I have children, as do my neighbours, and fellow citizens everywhere. A capitalist I may be, but I do NOT want to indenture my employees. I want employees who are proud of themselves, and proud of the good work they do. I want to bargain fairly with them, and I believe that their children should be educated to the limits of their abilities. I want them to be productive, and co-operate with me in delivering superior goods and services to our customers. I do not want serfs or drones, I want them to be PROUD CANADIANS. How can I possibly do this when all my competitors are paying minimum wage to deliver shoddy services, but for half the price? Not the Canada that I signed up for, and that is for damned sure. I am pretty sure that there are millions of Canadians like me. Canadians who are not enamoured of Union workplaces, but would defend the rights of workers to hold out for fair working conditions, and a decent standard of living. Surely there is room in the Liberal Party for ordinary Canadians who want nothing more than some security for themselves and their families?

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