Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 23/5/2012 (3250 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
OTTAWA -- Is the Harper government anti-labour?
The question arises anew after Labour Minister Lisa Raitt announced yet again Wednesday her intention to table back-to-work legislation hours after employees at CP Rail went on strike, as she did previously with the Air Canada and postal disputes.
But critics say the government's true colours are coming through more clearly and with a more systemic impact in a controversial budget bill they argue fundamentally changes the power balance between employers and employees -- all to the detriment of workers.
Even one of the Conservatives' own joined the chorus -- if only briefly -- of critics who are concerned about the wide array of controversial measures crammed into the bill.
One of the measures is so sneaky, says Manitoba NDP MP Pat Martin, nobody seemed to notice the line buried deep in the 452-page Bill C-38 that states, "The Fair Wages and Hours of Labour Act is repealed," giving no explanation.
With those 10 words, Ottawa intends to wipe out a 1985 law compelling contractors bidding on federal contracts to pay "fair wages" and overtime.
"I would have missed it and I'm from that industry. It was number 68 of 70 bills that they changed," said Martin, a former journeyman carpenter and construction worker. "It's a solution without a problem. The only conclusion I can come up with is that it's a war on labour and the left. It's what the Americans did with the right-to-work states and the end result is $8 or $9 an hour is now the average wage in places like North Carolina."
Along with the little-noticed provision, Bill C-38 calls for changes to immigration rules, the temporary foreign workers program and the employment insurance system -- all with an eye to make it easier for firms to bring in workers with the skills they require and to cut disincentives to work in Canada's domestic labour market. And, the government intends to effectively raise the retirement age to 67 years from 65 through changes to Old Age Security starting in 2023.
In a video posted online Wednesday, B.C. MP David Wilks expressed concern about the bill, but said there's nothing a lone member can do to defeat it. Wilks made the comments during a meeting Tuesday with a group of constituents in his Kootenay-Columbia riding.
In the video, Wilks said without similar defiance from at least a dozen fellow Tories, voting against the bill would be an empty gesture that would get him booted out of the Conservative caucus. "Me doesn't change the budget," he tells the constituents. "If I stand up and say 'no,' it still passes."
Shortly after the video surfaced, Wilks was back-pedalling. "I support this bill and the jobs and growth measures that it will bring for Canadians in Kootenay-Columbia and right across the country," he said.
Human Resources Minister Diane Finley is expected to announce details of the changes to the EI program today, establishing the types of jobs workers receiving benefits will no longer be allowed to refuse and possibly trimming benefits for repeat claimants.
In recent statements, government ministers have defended the proposed measures by citing "unprecedented" labour shortages in some sectors and regions of Canada, particularly Alberta and Saskatchewan, and the approaching demographic train wreck of retiring baby boomers.
Labour economist Erin Weir of the United Steelworkers says he has never bought the labour shortage argument, noting in a market economy if that were the case, wages would increase. Instead, they are barely keeping up with inflation.
-- The Canadian Press