Presented by Barbara Byers on Friday, 22 June 2012
Merci et bonjour tous le monde!
Sisters and Brothers, consoeurs et confreres, I am pleased to bring you greetings on behalf of President Ken Georgetti, Executive Vice President, Marie Clarke Walker, Secretary Treasurer Hassan Yussuff and on behalf of the 3.3 million workers who are members of the Canadian Labour Congress from coast to coast to coast.
I also use these opportunities to bring you greetings on behalf of the staff of the CLC; members of the Communications, Energy & Paperworkers Union and the Canadian Office and Professional Employees Union; workers who are working for you and all working people every day.
For those of you who have not met him, I would like to introduce you to Alex Furlong, our Regional Director for the Prairies. Alex advised me a few minutes ago that he is coming up to his first anniversary in the job and loves working with the activists and staff in the Prairie Region.
Ken Georgetti regrets he was unable to be here today and asked me to convey his thanks to your President, Kevin Rebeck, and the Executive of the Manitoba Federation of Labour for inviting the CLC to speak to you.
President Reback is providing strong leadership and helpful advice about Manitoba’s interests at the CLC Canadian Council.
And we especially want to congratulate Kevin and all your officers for the success you had last month in lobbying the Manitoba government to begin enforcing the Westray Act.
That Act, named after the Westray mining disaster that killed 26 workers in Nova Scotia, allows criminal prosecution of employers responsible for workplace deaths and injuries.
This is one of the most important ways we can prevent needless deaths on the job and eliminate Canada’s terrible record of losing a thousand workers to workplace accidents and related illnesses each year.
Imagine, a country like Canada killing 1000 workers on the job every year! Just think about that for a moment. I am told there are about 400 delegates here today so that would be like wiping out the population of this room 2 1/2 times each and every year.
So excellent work Kevin – congratulations on convincing Manitoba to do the right thing and take a lead on this in Canada.
But I have to tell you bluntly – we need your Manitoba Federation of Labour, every other Federation and every affiliated union and labour council working hard together to deal with the significant challenges facing our movement today.
The Harper Conservative government has unfortunately proven over and over that it is no friend to working people, no friend to women, no friend to the unemployed, no friend to students, no friend to seniors, no friend to the poor, no friend to the 99% and no friend to unions. Rather, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has launched several attacks on unions.
We’ve just seen the Machinists at Air Canada have an arbitrator impose the employer’s final offer after the Conservative government intervened when strike notice was served.
An imposed 5-year contract is not how free collective bargaining works. This government and their corporate buddies say they believe in free collective bargaining but what they really mean is the union does the bargaining and the government and the employer does the free collecting!
And despite what the Conservatives say, workers at Air Canada do not have “collective agreements” when they neither negotiated them nor voted on them – that’s absolutely not an “agreement” – that’s an affront to democracy.
But it is how the Conservative government works – it’s done the same thing repeatedly to intervene on the side of employers exclusively – at Air Canada, at CP Rail and at Canada Post.
It’s wrong...because it creates animosity and tension in the workplace, it reduces cooperation and productivity and because it violates just about every international labour standard Canada has pledged to uphold.
And that’s just the start of our troubles with the Tories.
The Conservative government’s recent changes to Employment Insurance demonstrate that their priority is not protecting or creating jobs but punishing those unfortunate enough to be unemployed.
These EI cuts will hurt those who are frequently unemployed or seasonally unemployed in two ways:
They will be bullied into taking 10 to 20 per cent hourly wage cuts for similar work – and accept a 30 per cent cut for any job offered to them if they continue to be seasonally unemployed.
Even those who have been working steadily will be forced to take a similar job with a 20 per cent wage cut.
And as you know by now, the Conservatives have done away with EI Referees across the country; places where those who disagree with being denied their claims can appeal the decisions. This is disgraceful!
The Conservatives are ignoring the fact that most workers want full time jobs – they only need EI when the economy isn’t producing enough employment.
And this government just isn’t creating jobs.
Statistics Canada says there were 5.8 unemployed workers for every reported job vacancy in Canada for the 3 months ending in February 2012.
In Manitoba, in the same period there were 3.7 unemployed workers for every job vacancy.
So how on earth will these changes to EI help put people back to work?
The only likely result is that employers will reduce wages because of more intense competition for fewer low paying jobs.
But workers with less income spend less on consumer goods and services, further hurting Canada’s fragile economy.
And forcing workers to take the first available job is not good labour market policy, since periods of job search allow for a better fit between unemployed workers and job vacancies.
It’s also clear that if unemployed workers are cut off from EI, they will be forced onto social assistance.
That means the federal government will be offloading the cost of unemployment onto Manitoba and the other provinces.
But what’s worst of all is that this Conservative government perversely believes unemployed workers are totally responsible for their own fate.
Yet, the last time I looked, it is employers who lay off workers – not workers who lay themselves off. But this clear fact appears to mystify Conservatives.
What is even clearer is that these EI changes are unfair, they are arbitrary, they are being brought in without public consultation and they are fundamentally wrong.
Next – you have heard earlier about Bill C-377 – the Conservative private members’ bill that falsely claims our members are not able to democratically run their own unions and determine our own finances.
Bill C-377 would force the costly and unnecessary public disclosure of every detail of union spending. And leave our finances open to scrutiny by employers.
The rational for this legislation is deliberately misleading.
Bill C-377 is simply a calculated attempt to intimidate unions and to restrict our ability to undertake organizing, political education and political action.
To respond we are doing what they fear the absolute most – we are talking with our affiliate activists and officers about what the Conservatives are trying to do so they can engage their members about how C377 will impact services to them. Because if our organizations are captured with unnecessary, invasive reporting there will be services we cannot offer to our members.
One of the reasons we believe that the Conservatives and their big business backers think they can get away with these attacks on unions is because our public image needs to be stronger to stop them.
And we have to re-frame our issues very clearly – because ultimately unions simply exist to promote fairness in our society. I have said it many times; we are often the first and the last lines of defence – for our members and for workers generally.
Our labour movement began because brave workers stood up to unscrupulous employers and said:
“Why is our workplace unsafe? Why are we being injured and killed on the job? Is that fair?”
“Why do we work 6 days a week, 12 hours a day and have to be away from our families so much? Is that fair?”
“Why don’t we make enough money to live in decent housing and feed our kids? Is that fair?”
The answer, of course, was no – it wasn’t fair at all.
And that’s the reason why millions of workers around the world fought to join unions – to make their lives fairer.
It’s the same fundamental message we need to communicate today – it’s all about fairness.
Nearly 98 per cent of all labour negotiations end with a new contract – not a strike or lockout – and yet big business and right wing politicians say collective bargaining hurts our economy.
Is that fair?
The “union advantage” in wages and benefits means local small businesses gain from the additional disposable income our union members have to spend in their communities, helping our economy.
The “union advantage” means millions of Canadian children have access to good housing and benefits like proper dental and vision care.
Yet big business and the right-wingers say our wages and benefits should be cut.
Is that fair?
Two-thirds of Canadians don’t have a workplace pension to retire with dignity and security.
Is that fair?
Less than 40 per cent of unemployed Canadians can actually get Employment Insurance benefits.
Is that fair?
Meanwhile, corporations enjoyed a 50 per cent tax rate cut in the last 10 years?
Is that fair?
And those corporate tax cuts cost the government $13 billion in revenue this year – and they are paying for it by slashing needed public services which also means slashing good jobs in our communities!
Is that fair?
Those corporations have also successfully lobbied the Conservatives to reduce environmental protection legislation – letting them pollute without consequences.
Is that fair?
The answer to all these questions is simple – no!
No, it’s not fair, no, it’s not right and it must change.
But we can’t expect our opponents to help us – we have to commit to more effectively communicating the enormous contributions of our union movement.
We have to all work together on this, because the future of unions is truly at stake.
In the report you were just dealing with you were told the “solidarity is the only thing that can defeat the greed and irrational hatred aimed at unions”.
Unity is critical if we are to succeed at our biggest goal – to ensure that every Canadian can retire with dignity and security – by expanding the Canada Pension Plan.
Just as previous generations fought for Medicare, for employment insurance and for the right to join a union, it is our responsibility to win retirement security for future generations.
Prime Minister Harper gives only one option – work longer, work till you are 67 years old – or perhaps even work until you drop dead in your job.
I ask again – is that fair? No!
Fortunately, the Canadian Labour Congress has given our country another option – a much better one that will work for everyone.
Here’s what we say:
Improve the Canada Pension Plan over the next few years to double the retirement benefits for all Canadians.
Consider this: by 2009, 9.6 million employees, that’s 61.5 per cent of all paid workers in Canada, had no workplace pension plan coverage at all.
Add the self-employed and there were 12.4 million Canadians in the labour force with no pension plan coverage.
That helps explain why we currently have 1.6 million seniors living below the poverty line – with incomes of less than $16,000.
What a deplorable statistic.
Yet there’s always money for even more corporate tax cuts.
It’s Robin Hood in reverse – robbing the poor to give to the rich!
And surprise, surprise – if Harper’s OAS changes are fully implemented, by 2030 the government expects to save $10 billion a year.
That’s less money than its already giving away today on tax cuts for big business!
Thankfully, the Canadian Labour Congress has a much more positive alternative – to expand the Canada Pension Plan.
If we phase in a small premium increase over 7 years, it would double maximum benefits – to $1,973 a month.
That would, over a generation, raise the basic pension floor for all workers from a poverty level of $12,000 a year to a far more liveable $24,000 and provide a brighter future for today's young people.
If you want to see how this proposal would affect you I invite you to go to the CLC website and find the pension calculator, put in your age and other details and it will tell you the difference this could make in your retirement security.
What’s more, the Canada Pension Plan is universal, it’s portable – it goes with you, not your job – and it covers 93% of workers.
The CPP is also safe, secure, indexed to inflation and its management costs are lower than the exorbitant rates charged by private financial institutions; and Canada has the highest management rates anywhere in the world!
Again, I invite you to visit the CLC website and check out the interesting site that calculates what those money managers take away from people in management fees for Registered Retirement Savings Plans.
So – given that this all makes good common sense and is fiscally responsible and that it is fair for Canadians, guess what?
Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty – who initially supported an expanded CPP – changed his mind.
The big banks got to Flaherty and some provinces – just when we were close to a breakthrough.
But their strong opposition only means one thing – we are on the right track!
Fortunately, we'll have another chance soon to advance our cause.
Provincial finance ministers will be meeting soon to look at research about what would constitute a “modest” increase in the Canada Pension Plan.
That means we urgently need your union’s help and your personal help to keep up the pressure.
Please talk to elected Manitoba provincial representatives, talk to your federal MPs, get in the media – let them know we must improve the Canada Pension Plan! It is about fairness for retirement incomes.
We didn’t win Medicare without a long fight and we can’t get a better CPP without one either!
Merci! La lutte continue! The Struggle Continues!
Solidarity Forever, for the union makes us strong; and the Manitoba Federation of Labour makes the unions strong.
Thank you and have a great convention!