Vol. 4, No. 1
PSAC stands up for the right to retire with dignity
Corporate think-tanks and right-wing lobbyists are pressuring the Harper government to attack our pensions in order to cut the deficit. These are the same groups that champion the business interests that benefited from tax cuts and government bailouts.
They are now using the deficit as justification to gut public services and expenditures - and their first target is our pensions. They are doing this to divert attention away from the real pension issue: the need for public-pension reform that will provide retirement security for all. Have you ever heard the question, “why do my tax dollars have to pay for your goldplated pension?” The short answer is they don't.
Here are some reasons why: Pension benefits paid to our members are deferred salary
They're not a gift from the taxpayers or a hand-out from the employer. Our pensions are part of our pay. This becomes very apparent - even explicit - at the bargaining table. That's why, strictly speaking, the pension benefits paid out to our members must be understood as deferred salary.
We contribute directly to the plan
In 2010, federal public sector workers will contribute 10.45% on every dollar they make under $47,200 and 8.4% on every dollar above $47,200. This goes toward a combination of CPP or QPP and the federal public service superannuation plan. By 2013, employee contributions will make up about 40 per cent of the total cost of providing pension benefits. But pension plans don't depend on contributions alone. The contributions themselves provide returns that help fund the benefits.
Our pensions are hardly “gold-plated”
The average annual pension received by retired federal public sector workers in 2008 was $23,422. The idea of “Freedom 55” is not a reality for most of us. In fact, few public sector workers retire at age 55 on a full pension. This only applies to the small number of people who have worked in the federal public service for more than 35 years. The age when public sector workers are eligible for an unreduced pension has always been 60.
Public sector pensions are the ones that work best
Public sector pensions are defined benefit plans. That means that the benefits upon retirement are a percentage of salary, and as such are “pre-determined.” In contrast, defined contribution plans are ones where the contribution is defined, but not the pension. The amount of the pension depends on the amount contributed, combined with the fluctuations of the market.
You don't fix a problem by getting rid of the only model that is working. Defined contribution plans such as RRSPs have taken a significant hit during this economic crisis. As a result, they have failed to provide a stable, predictable retirement income to the senior citizens who rely on them.
Private sector employees have been hit hard by employers' retreat from good pensions. But this does not justify punishing public sector workers. It's never been more important for us to stand together to improve retirement security for all Canadians.
What you can do:
Visit psac.com to sign a petition to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, demanding that the federal government protect our pension plans and improve retirement security for everyone.
Discuss these issues with your co-workers, friends and members. Ask them to sign our petition.
Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper, dispelling myths about our pensions and calling for better retirement benefits for everyone.
Check out the Canadian Labour Congress website at clc-ctc.ca, to learn more about the campaign for “Retirement Security for Everyone.”
Visit psac-afpc.com, to get more information and updates on PSAC's pension campaign.
Parliament is on pause, but your union is taking action
Happy New Year!
This New Year presents challenges to PSAC and our membership. When many of us were preparing for the holidays, Prime Minister Stephen Harper quietly put Parliament on pause until March.
Harper claims his government needs to recalibrate and prepare for the upcoming federal budget. But even though the Conservatives would like to downplay the significance of proroguing Parliament for the second time in a year, Canadians are not easily fooled. More than 220,000 people have joined an anti-prorogation Facebook group, and a recent EKOS poll shows that 58.7 per cent of Canadians are opposed to this democracy hiatus, including 40.5 per cent who stand “strongly opposed.”
Critics, including MPs from opposition parties, speculate that Harper decided to suspend Parliament in an effort to deflect public attention from the Afghan detainee scandal and the Conservatives' lack of action on climate change. No matter what Harper's motivation though, it's clear that his government is losing the confidence of the public and embarrassing itself on the world stage.
The EKOS poll mentioned above found that support for Harper is slipping - even amongst Conservative voters - thanks likely in part to the decision to prorogue. As a recent editorial in the Economist points out, “Never mind what his spin doctors say: Mr. Harper's move looks like naked selfinterest.”
Harper claims that his government needs time to prepare for the upcoming federal budget, as well as launch the second phase of his government's economic action plan. But according to recent data from Statistics Canada, the country's economic recovery has been slow and uneven. We are clearly not out of the woods just yet.
More and more people are working longer hours, stuck in part-time or temporary jobs. Self-employment is also on the rise. In most cases, these types of jobs offer no benefits or job security. Employment among women aged 25-54 fell by 24,000 in December and youth joblessness rose to 16.1 per cent nationally. Is Harper's economic action plan really working?
You might have heard from right-wing pundits that the worst is over and that it's time to make cuts to public services. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Losses in the financial markets have resulted in the loss of personal savings and the elimination or severe devaluation of numerous private-sector pension plans. This has led to more economic disparity, further widening the gap between rich and poor. Women, young workers, recent immigrants, Aboriginal Peoples and people with disabilities have been impacted most severely by the economic downturn and are a large part of the rising poverty levels.
Public services are widely seen as the great equalizer - accessible and valuable to all Canadians. Given that the economic recovery will be slow and so many Canadians are still suffering, this is really the worst time for the Conservatives to be abdicating their responsibilities. This government needs to invest in the services that support Canadians and the workers that provide them.
While we continue to be unsure of when the next federal election will be, we need to be ready. No matter when it happens, we need to mobilize to defeat Stephen Harper, or at least ensure he does not achieve a majority government. We need a government that supports quality public services - the work done by all of you, every day, on behalf of all Canadians.
Now is the time to lobby your Member of Parliament to ensure that the next federal budget invests in public services. Canada's economic recovery plan should not solely benefit supporters of Stephen Harper. While he may think no one missed Parliament for the last two months, we must remind him and all MPs of their obligation to govern this country in a way that benefits all Canadians. With MPs in their home ridings, now is the time to make your voices heard loud and clear!
In Solidarity, John Gordon, National President
Museum workers win job security and seniority rights after 86 days on the picket line
They battled rain, snow and torrential winds for 86 days. They baked cookies, choreographed dance routines and found ways to keep their spirits up. They faced an uncertain future as the holidays approached and remained united, despite financial and familial pressure.
And after more than 13 weeks on the picket line, the PSAC members from the Canadian Museum of Civilization and War Museum returned to work victorious, winning new protections against contracting out, new seniority provisions and much better job security.
The decision to go on strike in the midst of an economic recession wasn't something the 420 workers at the museum took lightly. But after seeing so many of their colleagues work from year-to-year on part-time contracts with little job security, they knew it was time to stand up for workplace justice. They also were seriously concerned that unstable staffing was having a detrimental effect on the museums and their important artifacts. Their decision to take action galvanized the arts community, inspired the labour movement, and allowed the workers to discover talents that they didn't even know they had.
Speaking from the cafeteria at the Museum of Civilization in January, Claire Champ reflected on the 86 days she spent on the picket line last fall - her first strike experience. An Interpretive Planner at the Museum of Civilization, Champ described the many stages she went through during the strike - from disorientation, to anger, to tremendous pride and determination.
“It felt incredibly empowering, being part of this collective action,” she said. “It really seemed that we would be able to make change. That energy and community helped me live with uncertainty from day-today … It was very disorienting at first, but gradually I figured it out.”
Though Champ has been a permanent employee at the museum for seven years, she was motivated by the mistreatment of contract staff. For her, it was about the fundamental issue of respect - both for the employees and the artifacts they preserve. As someone whose career is dedicated to displaying and interpreting treasures, she's especially concerned about the longevity of the museum as cultural institutions.
“Staff that are essential to the museum were being strung along [on a contract basis]. This is unfair to the workers and also bad for the museum - continuity and corporate memory are essential to the health of the museum's collection,” she said.
For Champ, the hardest thing to cope with during the 86-day strike was the uncertainty, especially when friends and family members were anxious to know when she would return to work. But she said that what kept her motivated and engaged was the sense of camaraderie that she experienced on the picket line.
Stephanie Burchell described a similar sense of community - something that developed during the strike and has continued since she returned to work in December.
“We were all a little bit more human on the picket line,” said Burchell. “There's this illusion that we have security and stability in our lives. The strike forced us to face fear and insecurity. It was a lesson in how to be able to embrace chaos and stay grounded in uncertainty.”
Like many of the museum workers, Burchell used the arts to help beat monotony on the picket line. An actor with the museum's in-house theatre company Dramamuse, Burchell created a character called Penny the Beaver, who became the unofficial strike mascot.
Working with museum videographer Justin Lenczewski, Burchell created a series of hilarious Youtube shorts featuring Penny - a beaver from the Queen's stamp collection - begging the museum to return to the bargaining table and end the strike. The videos were viewed by thousands of people and cross-posted through social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook.
For Burchell, the process of making the videos was a freeing experience. Without a complicated approval process to worry about, she and Lenczewski were able to write, film and post their work within three days - something that would be unheard of in their regular jobs.
But the newfound creative freedom wasn't the main motivation for Burchell to stay out on the line. It was the fact that she and her co-workers were standing up for workplace justice and fair treatment.
“It's fundamentally about what kind of working lives we are going to have,” she said.
Daniel Poulin was perhaps the most public face of the museum strike. As the President of PSAC Local 70396, Poulin spent hours at the negotiating table, in strategy meetings and on the picket line. He was featured in at least 100 newspaper articles as well as in radio and television interviews.
“The last 18 months have been grueling physically and emotionally - dealing with an employer that was so intransigent,” he said. “As a leader, I found it quite a challenge.”
Along with the financial and emotional challenges associated with leading a grueling strike, Poulin faced additional barriers associated with having a disability. Overcoming inclement weather and battling exhaustion, he was a constant presence on the picket line in his wheelchair with his guide dog. But despite these struggles, Poulin maintains that the biggest challenge was other people's assumptions about his capabilities.
“Sometimes people assume that because I have wheels - that my body doesn't work - that my head doesn't work,” he said. “I never thought I would wind up as a leader in the union movement for over eight years, with more than six as the president of my Local.”
Poulin said his favourite memories of the strike took place at the two rallies that the workers held on Parliament Hill in November and December, drawing representatives from all three opposition parties, including Jack Layton and Gilles Duceppe.
“The weather was horrendous during both of those rallies - sleet and snow. But still hundreds gathered on the Hill to support us.”
It's this support that continues to sustain the museum workers, along with a renewed commitment to political activism. “We are much more politically engaged as a family,” said Champ, explaining how her 10 year-old son is now fascinated by watching question period on CPAC. “We have learned a lot.”
What they won
Details of the new four-year collective agreement include:
A guarantee that no indeterminate employee will suffer involuntary termination as a result of contracting out.
New job security provisions that commit the museums to use attrition to minimize job loss.
Seven new permanent front-line services positions, to be posted and filled internally, based on employees' seniority and current job titles.
For temporary full-time employees, the possibility of becoming indeterminate after 24 months, should the functions they perform continue to be required.
New clauses for maternity and parental leave which are now consistent with the Quebec Parental Insurance legislation.
Arts on the picket line
The museum strike proved to be an excellent example of how artistic initiatives can transform strikes into creative laboratories. The workers garnered media attention, engaged families and earned support from arts workers all over the world. They delivered their demands in a variety of formats, making their issues accessible to unconventional audiences. Some of their creative interventions included:
- An outdoor photo exhibit called Striking Treasures, featuring portraits of the museum workers.
- A picket line tea party, in honour of Prince Charles' visit to Canada.
- Outdoor children's crafts and games.
- The words “on strike” projected onto the Museum of Civilization after dark.
- Penny the Beaver's Youtube monologues.
- Group choreography to Michael Jackson's Thriller.
- A concert and fundraiser at the Bronson Centre in Ottawa, featuring musicians Ian Tamblyn, Ana Miura, The Mighty Popo, Marcel Aymar.
- A picket line visit and photo opportunity with legendary British folk singer Billy Bragg.
Activist economist Armine Yalnizyan on how to fix an unfair economy
Armine Yalnizyan has spent her career examining the growing gap between the rich and the rest of us in Canada. As a senior economist with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, she has charted how the rich are getting richer, the poor are getting by with even less, and the middle are peddling harder to stay in place. Her observations echo the trends that PSAC has been seeing in workplaces for years - more and more people being forced to work in a series of part-time jobs or on temporary contracts. Armine took time to speak with Our Union Voice about how public sector workers might be able to fight rollbacks of their own wages and benefits, while also improving working conditions for everyone.
You have done a lot of work on growing poverty levels in Canada. What have you seen in the last few years? And what do you think we need to know about the bigger picture in terms of who's getting richer and who is not?
The frustrating thing about watching the growing gap in the last 30 years in Canada is that the first 20 years looks like one pattern but the last 10 years represent something completely different and far less promising, despite lots more money sloshing around.
During the first 20 years, people rose up and down roughly together - we were all in the same boat. So when a recession hit everybody would be a little bit dinged, the people at the bottom of course the most. But the recovery would come along and people would more or less move up in tandem.
That was true of the recession of the eighties and the nineties. Now we're in a whole new ball game. After 1996, Canada experienced a stretch of economic growth unlike anything we'd seen since the 1960s. But even with really strong economic growth, the rich-poor gap grew rather than shrank, because people at the top enjoyed the majority of the benefits from this gain.
Who are hit the hardest in an unfair economy? And how will the current recession exacerbate this disparity?
Generally speaking, women are hardest hit by an unequal economy. Women always roll up their sleeves and dive into whatever work is there, because they have no choice but to support their families. Better paid, more steady work is shed during a recession, leaving behind more precarious, low-waged, non-unionized contract and parttime work. But increasingly, more people are being forced to accept difficult working conditions, in good times and bad.
This era of precarious employment is putting everyone who is not at the absolute top on the same unsteady footing. Of course the people working in temporary and contract types of jobs are the first to be laid off. And this includes a disproportionate number of people who are racialized, Aboriginal, or disabled. But going forward, the long-term trend is a widespread expansion of precarious employment. That's where the labour market is heading.
At PSAC we often talk about public service as the great equalizer. How do you see public services playing into Canada's recovery from this recession?
Well, just stop and think about what this recession has done. It has slashed exports, and business investments have ground to a halt. There's been a slowdown in consumer demand. All that is left to prevent the economy from completely plummeting is government expenditures. And government expenditures primarily flow into the community as wages to people that are providing the services. So public services are the only thing, really, that is saving our bacon right now.
Just over a quarter of federal expenditures flow to individuals as transfers split between employment insurance, old-age security programs and childtax benefits. But most of the rest of the spending goes to provide services to people. With the kind of slow growth and lots of downward pressure on wages that we are experiencing now, one way to soften the blow is to offset the cost of the basics, making sure that needed infrastructure and services are in good shape and widely accessible. By basics I mean access to affordable housing and clean water, health care and education, including early learning, child care and transit. That stretches everybody's pay cheque a little bit further, so people can spend and support the economy. That's the only way businesses will gain strength and think about investing again.
So right now it is the public sector that is holding the house of cards up. If we start looking at ways of cutting back on that, we're guaranteed a collapse.
Do you have some suggestions about how public sector workers might be able to continue their struggle while also contributing to the broader fight against poverty?
One of the messages that PSAC can put forward is the importance of stable work time and steady income. You have to know how much you're making so you can make plans in life. If everybody's working on short-term contracts, they might be working flat out right now but they don't know if they will have an income in six months or in a year's time. That's not the way to sustainability for the rich, the poor or the middle.
Public sector jobs need to be done, period. They don't need to be done on a contract basis, they're not going away. So if those jobs are inevitably going to need to be done, why not have steady jobs for the people doing them, and the possibility of gaining some built-up wisdom about the work over the long haul?
The recipe for prosperity has long been to get an education and work hard. This generation of workers is better educated and working more than their predecessors a generation ago, and despite this they are falling further behind in terms of income and indebtedness. If more work and greater education is not the answer, what is?
Temporary and erratic hours of work may be the emerging new normal in the labour market if we don't get organized to fight this attack on the last remaining power of workers - control over their working time. As your members from the Museum of Civilization and War Museum know, control over hours of work was one of the major reasons for their strike action.
Without control over hours of work it becomes difficult to raise kids, or even have kids; and it becomes challenging to get involved in civil society. Our only sanctioned social contribution is waged labour. You can't have a thriving society if everything is about work.
How would you like to see the economy change to benefit people?
We need fewer ambulances at the bottom of the cliff and more fences at the top. A greater focus on preventing bad things from happening rather than fixing them when they go wrong will help our individual pay cheques and our collective resources go further. A focus on identifying and punishing offenders is more costly than investing in the social determinants of health and statistics show it doesn't diminish the problems. The advantage of securing more healthy environments for people, particularly children, is that we can all grow and develop to our potential. We'll really need to make the best of what we've got in the years to come, as labour market shortages become unavoidable.
Investments in better physical and human infrastructure have to be conceived as more than just an emergency stimulus measure. Before the recession even started we had a $125 billion infrastructure deficit in villages, towns and cities all across the country. We are still riding on the infrastructure built 50 years ago by our parents' generation. They built the systems that still propel our economy, the foundation that we are finding so hard to maintain let alone extend; even though our economy is at least five times as big as the economy that built this shared wealth.
Our public needs include roads and sewers, as well as water systems, electricity grids and housing. But we also desperately need early child development as part of our foundational infrastructure, particularly if the next generation of women act essentially the same as men when it comes to the job market. There will be fewer people to not only replace retiring boomers, but fewer people with time to take care of the babies, the elderly and the physically and mentally frail, the people who always walk with us.
You can read more about ArmineYalnizyan's work at GrowingGap.ca - an initiative of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, seeking to increase public awareness about the alarming spread of income and wealth inequality in Canada.
Temporary workers at McGill University in Montreal took a huge step toward improving their working conditions in December, when they voted to unionize with PSAC.
Numbering more than 3,000, “casual, non-academic” employees at McGill cover absences in a range of administrative, technical and maintenance positions. They do the same work as permanent employees, but they do not receive the same salaries or working conditions.
In the summer, permanent employees are given fridays off. Casual workers - who do the same jobs - don't.
Holly Nazar played an active role in the PSAC organizing drive at McGill. She used to work as an administrative supervisor at the university. During the summer, she was frustrated to see that she had to put in an extra day per week, while her co-workers benefitted from long weekends.
“I really felt like a second class citizen,” Nazar said. “I was as competent and I worked as hard as those in permanent positions, but my working conditions differed considerably.”
Believe it or not, temporary workers represent more than a fifth of the university's work force. That's why it was so significant when 85 per cent of them voted in favour of joining PSAC in a labour board supervised vote last December.
The next step is for PSAC to help these workers negotiate their first collective agreement.
“Once they are protected by a collective agreement, the workers will be able to aspire to greater security and better working conditions. This will help relieve some of the stress caused by their precarious status,” said Jérôme Turcq, PSAC Regional Executive Vice-President for Quebec.
“Casual workers are the most vulnerable workers on campus,” said Max Silverman, a casual worker at McGill who volunteered during the organizing drive. “This victory will have a positive impact on future working conditions at the university.”
PSAC Quebec has organized 19,000 workers in eight Quebec universities since 2003, including the Université de Montréal, Laval, Concordia and McGill.
Attacks on arts and culture threaten the economy and Canadian heritage
When Stephen Harper made a surprise onstage appearance with the National Arts Centre Orchestra last fall, he not only mangled a Beatles classic. He also made one of the most selfserving and hypocritical moves of his career.
The event in question was a fundraiser for the National Youth and Education Trust, which provides funds for the NAC's wide array of performing arts programming for young artists, young audiences, teachers and schools. Given how little funding arts education receives across the country, this program is one way the arts are made accessible to young Canadians.
Black-tie concerts such as these are the very kind of event that Harper described the year before as, a “bunch of people at a rich gala all subsidized by the taxpayers.” But of course, this didn't stop him from donning his tux and playing the piano in front of a shocked audience - singing out of both sides of his mouth.
Canada's arts and cultural sector has been under attack since Harper took office. Claiming the arts are a “niche issue for some,” his government has made more than $45 million in direct cuts to arts programs, including:
Cutting the Museums Assistance Program by $4.63 million. This program provides financial assistance to regional Canadian museums and galleries. It aims to improve Canadians' access to their heritage as well as foster the preservation, protection, and management of collections devoted to Aboriginal cultures. This cut means fewer exhibitions and reduced access to Canadian culture.
Cancelling the Portrait Gallery of Canada. This gallery was originally planned to occupy a prime location across from Parliament Hill in Ottawa. Shortly after taking power, the Harper government sought private bidders to house the collection. When that didn't work, the Conservatives claimed the costs associated with the Portrait Gallery would be too high. Soon after, Harper cancelled the project altogether. This, despite the fact that the original location was already half-way completed - forcing the government to pay cancellation fees. It was later discovered that the Harper government inflated the figures, lying to Canadians about the true costs of building the Portrait Gallery.
Eliminating arts promotion and educational programs, including the PromArt and Trade Routes, which promoted Canadian artists internationally and allowed them to tour. The government also cut funding to the Audio-Visual Preservation Trust of Canada, the Canadian Independent Film and Video Fund and the National Training Program in the Film and Video Sector.
Closing Exhibit Transportation Services. This federal program provided shipping services exclusively to public art galleries and museums across Canada. This included the use of climatecontrolled vehicles and trained drivers who acted as the art handlers at pickup and delivery points.
ETS was cost-effective, professionally sanctioned and reliable. Over 54 per cent of all art transportation between museums in Canada was conducted by ETS, compared to 28 per cent for all other fine-art carriers combined. In some isolated regions, ETS was the only fine-art carrier available, as others refuse to service outlining regions where the profit-margin is slim.
In Canada's North, the costs of using a private delivery service for one exhibition can represent more than a museum's total transportation budget for a year. The cost of insurance has also risen, resulting in travelling exhibitions being too expensive for many regional museums and galleries to afford. Cutting this service cuts our access to our heritage.
Cutting the arts, disrespecting heritage
All of these cuts are in addition to the layoffs attributed to the Harper government's mandatory strategic review, which demanded that all government departments and programs cut approximately 5 per cent of their budget. This made Canada's four national museums and the National Library and Archives targets for job losses and reductions in programming.
The National Gallery of Canada has been hit particularly hard by the strategic review. In September, 12 workers, including all of the gallery's educator-guides, received lay-off notices. The NGC is also considering privatizing its bookstore, which would mean that nine more people would lose their jobs. The gallery's bookstore brings in 26 per cent of the gallery's yearly revenue.
The loss of the educator-guides is especially troubling, given their critical role in delivering educational programs and making art accessible and relevant to the public. A study commissioned by the National Gallery found that, “clearly the tour guide is the single greatest factor in the success of the school tour.”
“If that is the case, how can the gallery's management justify laying off all of its educators/guides?” asked Philippe Carpentier, president of the PSAC local at the National Gallery. “The educators/guides are an essential part of the gallery and letting them go is depriving Canadians of an important cultural resource.”
CBC in peril
The CBC is another important cultural asset that has been severely affected by budget cuts. The Harper government cut more than $179 million from the public broadcaster in 2009, and the Friends of Canadian Broadcasting recently uncovered a government memo indicating that the Conservatives are considering even deeper cuts. The network is already running on low capacity, given that the CBC received a third less funding per capita than it did in the early 1990s.
These cuts have deeply impacted both Radio-Canada and the CBC, leading to reductions in radio and television programming, the closure of regional CBC studios and reductions in local news coverage. This had led to massive job losses. In 2009 over 3,000 media jobs were cut across the country - 10 per cent from the CBC alone.
Healthy arts, healthy economy
A recent Conference Board of Canada report, Valuing Culture: Measuring and Understanding Canada's Creative Economy, examined the significant impact that the arts sector has on our economy. In 2007- 08, the arts contributed at least $46 billion to the economy - or 3.8 per cent of Canada's GDP. When the indirect impacts on other sectors are included, this figure almost doubled to $84.6 billion, or 7.4 per cent of GDP. The cultural sector was also responsible for generating 1.1 million jobs during the same period.
It is interesting to note that this report was produced in collaboration with the Department of Canadian Heritage. It details the many ways that arts and culture benefit Canadians, noting that, “Creative communities are important drivers in Canada's economy. They project unique identities that act as magnets for skilled and creative people and for business investment.” The report calls on all levels of government to take action to support the arts.
“Few people would argue that the singular value of the arts is economic,” said John Gordon, National President of PSAC. “Creators of culture such as artists, musicians and writers - just to name a few - comment on the world as they perceive it. They teach us about ourselves, and build bridges between cultures.”
Arts workers also take on the task of preserving and interpreting our heritage. Museum exhibitions are planned and mounted by skilled workers who are helped behind the scenes by people who specialize in collections, documentation, research and preservation. This work is done not just for our benefit, but also for the benefit of future generations. Being custodians of this heritage means being part of a continuum - continuing the work of those who came before and providing a base for Canadians in the future.
This is why the fight to preserve our arts and cultural sector is so important - a collective battle with the Harper government over its lack of vision for arts and culture.
“We must continue to work together to ensure that Canada's cultural sector remains vibrant,” said Gordon. “Not only is this critical to our economy - it's essential for our future.”
PSAC National Health and Safety Conference draws hundreds
The need to strengthen health and safety regulations both inside and outside workplaces was a key theme during PSAC's National Health and Safety Conference, held in Montreal in November.
The conference drew 300 delegates, focusing on the importance of improving health and safety protection for workers. Participants also drew crucial connections between their role as workplace advocates and the need for broader environmental activism.
One key challenge that they identified was the need to strengthen the ability of PSAC activists to mobilize members to get involved in workplace issues. Delegates discussed new ways to help Canadian workers who cannot rely solely on laws and regulations to protect themselves against work-related accidents and illnesses.
“Current laws barely provide workers with minimum protection,” said Gerry Halabecki, PSAC Ontario Regional- Executive Vice-President and co-chair of the conference. “Union members must continue to strategize to ensure that they and their co-workers are protected in the workplace.”
Delegates to the conference discussed a range of issues including violence and harassment in the workplace, the lack of enforcement of health and safety legislation, and the need to improve workers' compensation. Participants also examined how deregulation has contributed to the environmental crisis in Canada.
“As trade unionists, we must continue to work closely with other unions and progressive organizations in order to ensure governments adopt and enforce stronger health and safety and environmental legislation,” said Kay Sinclair, PSAC Regional-Executive Vice-President for B.C. and co-chair of the conference.
The subject of environmental protection was debated in depth.
Nobel Peace Prize nominee and renowned environmental activist Sheila Watt-Cloutier highlighted the significant impact climate change has had on the peoples of the North.
“We're already living this reality,” said Watt-Cloutier. “It's not a theory in the future; it's right now in the present.”
She explained how the disappearance of ice fields and permafrost will force Inuit peoples to drastically modify their ways of life and to abandon a culture that has thrived for centuries in the North.
Delegates also heard from Clayton Thomas-Muller of the Indigenous Environmental Network, who spoke about the devastating consequences that Alberta's tar sands are having on the lives of people in that region and on local ecosystems.
As Thomas-Muller pointed out, the tar sands project is the largest industrial development in the world and also the most significant contributor to Canada's high green house gas emissions.
Enough dirt is removed from the tar sands on a daily basis to fill the Air Canada stadium in Toronto. This involves burning 600 million cubic feet of natural gas per day to extract the oil from the tar sands. One million litres of toxic affluent leaks into the Athabasca River every day.
Despite these alarming realities, there has been no independent assessment of the tar sands' environmental impact, which is causing the second fastest rate of deforestation on the planet behind the Amazon rainforest.
According to Thomas-Muller, we cannot have healthy and safe workplaces if our communities are not healthy and safe. The delegates at PSAC's National Health and Safety conference couldn't have agreed more.
PSAC activists in the Atlantic Region are using political pressure and creative protest to help save the national long gun registry.
Bill C-391, a private member's bill sponsored by Conservative MP Candice Hoeppner, is the latest in the long history of right-wing attempts to eliminate Canada's gun registry. Under fire is Canada's system for registering rifles and shotguns and its accompanying database of roughly eight million firearms records. If the bill succeeds, it would allow long guns to be unaccounted for and completely untraceable.
Despite the prorogation of Parliament, the threat of Bill C-391 is as present as ever. On November 4, 2009, the bill passed a second reading by 27 votes and was referred to the Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security. It was supported by the entire Conservative caucus, along with a handful of NDP and Liberal MPs. Prorogation does not affect the progress of private members' bills, meaning that Bill C-391 will be discussed in committee as planned when Parliament resumes in March.
Saving women's lives
“Women across Canada, including PSAC members, are outraged at this latest attack on the national long gun registry,” says Jeannie Baldwin, PSAC's Regional Executive Vice-President for the Atlantic. “The registry saves lives, and in particular it saves women's lives.”
The Canadian Firearms Registry allows police to check households for the presence of firearms before responding to a dispute. It is used roughly 10,000 times each day. The service is essential in cases of domestic violence, where the presence of a gun in the home can radically increase the risk of harm to women and children. Since the registry was established in 1995, gun related spousal homicides in Canada have been reduced by 50 per cent.
At the heart of the fight are the workers themselves - members of the Union of Solicitor General Employees, Local 60001, at the RCMP Canadian Firearms Program's Central Processing Site in Miramichi, New Brunswick. They have been working to defend the registry and their jobs since the Harper Conservatives came to power in 2006.
In February 2009, Stephen Harper announced to a Miramichi audience that there would be no loss of federal employment in the area should the registry be abolished. Almost a year later, he has yet to comment on how he plans to protect jobs if Bill C-391 becomes law.
Joining with activists all over the Atlantic, the workers from Local 60001 have mounted a creative and politically savvy campaign to save the gun registry. They entered a float in Miramichi's Parade of Lights, urging local residents and politicians to fight Bill C-391. They also placed an advertisement The Miramichi
Leader and wrote letters to the editors of community newspapers. Workers and women's rights activists lobbied government and business leaders, collecting hundreds of signatures on a petition.
The campaign continued to grow at a regional women's action planning forum held in Halifax in November. Participants noted the bitter irony of the bill's progress amidst the approaching 20th anniversary of the massacre of 14 women by a gunman at École Polytechnique.
Throughout December, women held candle light vigils at the offices of MPs who supported the bill, pressuring them to vote against it when it returns to the House. From Fall River to Happy Valley-Goose Bay, women gathered and made themselves heard.
The campaign to save the long gun registry continues. Visit psac-afpc.com to find out how you can get involved.
Date Modified : 2010/10/25