Liberal Ottawa wants to bust its union

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CEOs aside, reason and good sense are on the side of the union, not the government.

125,000 workers represented by the Public Service Alliance of Canada struck the federal government at midnight on Oct. 11.Despite a conciliation board report for the important Table 1 talks (involving 80,000 PSAC workers) that charged negotiators to get down to business, and reach an agreement on the important outstanding issues, Treasury Board President Reg Alcock has forced PSAC to take to the streets to win their demands for a better working life.

“Should I be surprised the Liberal government is not looking after the interest of working Canadians?” was how economist Mel Watkins greeted the strike news.

A good way to evaluate how a government affects the quality of life in this country is to look at how it treats its own work force. The respect Alcock and his negotiators accord their own employees can be found in the pages of the September 26 conciliation report for Table 1.

Paul Martin wants to be known as the productivity prime minister. Education and training are a key component of this he has argued since first entering politics in 1988.Treasury Board does not want to agree to improved education and training leave for its program and administrative services employees seated across from them at Table 1.

The Liberals are sensitive to gender issues. Right. Well, if you are a woman who works for the public service, you would laugh at that idea. The Liberals fought pay equity for ten years, or so, and then were finally forced by the courts to pay up for past discrimination. At Table 1, 75 per cent of the workers are women. Offer them six per cent, about the rate of inflation over three years, and you recoup some of those pay equity redress payments.PSAC asked for nine per cent. The government considers this unreasonable. While the Bank of Canada is saying the labour market is tight, Treasury Board does not want to reward its employees.

PSAC wants human rights language on harassment in the workplace in the collective agreement. The employer thinks a policy statement is good enough. Has nobody in cabinet noticed the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is part of our constitution, and that women have the right to be treated equally?

PSAC is trying to have the needs of its work force respected in the workplace. That is what negotiating a collective agreement is about for a union. In order to represent its employees, PSAC has talked to them, and asked what issues are important, and need to be addressed now.Striking public servants are part of the sandwich generation. Parents are enjoying a longer life span and need extended family care and attention. In a society without public child care facilities, having children and helping them grow up, requires juggling work and parental supervision.

So PSAC has put bereavement leave on the table, leave to get married, and parental leave. Treasury Board does not want to negotiate. That would mean taking the gains won by PSAC members in the grievance process and incorporating them in the collective agreement. The Board prefers to roll those gains back, and harmonize leave down to a lower level.

Nice, eh? Your mom is dying, and the government of Canada wants to put back the clock on how much time you can spend with her. Thanks Reg.

Treasury Board think they are setting employment standards for Canada. And they are prepared to legislate PSAC workers back as part of that process. What they have in mind for daily working life is clearing the union out of the way.

For managers, workers are a cost of production, so, keep the price down, refuse to grant an increase in real wages. Expect the public to blame the union for trying to get what everybody wants, some concrete recognition of the value of their work..Unions impede the ability of management to manage, so, do your best to get workers to understand there is nothing to be gained by being part of a union. The boss has the power, the boss decides.

Alcock hopes to gain public support, divide public sector workers from other Canadians. He must also hope not too many people notice that workers wages go directly into the pockets of other members of the community, that he wants to roll back gains made by women in the public sector, and discourage the transfer of gender equity benefits to the private sector, and that he will increase the democratic deficit by replacing free collective bargaining with stonewalling, followed by punitive legislation.

Whatever the public decides, the Liberals are secure in the view that union busting sits well with the chief executive crowd. Why support the Conservatives when the Liberals acting against their own employees will send a message to private sector unions looking to improve the life of their members?

I have a weekly lunch group that meets near Parliament Hill. On Tuesday, day one of the strike, the owner lamented that restaurant traffic was off; and he is not alone with his concerns. Local Ottawa businesses know how wage uncertainty affects plans for shopping for Fall and Christmas.

CEOs aside, reason and good sense are on the side of the union, not the government. By resisting collective bargaining the Liberals are limiting gains for workers throughout Canada. Especially, they have chosen to dismiss the genuine concerns of working women for a safer, better, more equitable, work place.

The union wanted a better deal for term employees who make up a larger proportion of the work force. It wanted to see a social justice fund established so that the union could intervene directly internationally on issues of concern to its membership.

It is hard to disagree: when PSAC walked out, they went out on behalf of all who share their goal of a better working life.

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