Canadian government to ‘rip away’ dockers’ right to strike

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Canadian Union of Public Employees strikers on the picket line at the Port of Montreal

Unions across the world are outraged to learn that Justin Trudeau’s Liberal minority government teamed up with Canada’s Conservative opposition in the early hours of last Thursday morning to progress legislation to rip away Montréal dockworkers’ right to strike.

‘Justin Trudeau’s government has launched an assault on the human rights of their own citizens to withdraw their labour, in direct breach of Canada’s own constitution, its laws, and its international commitments,’ said Paddy Crumlin, International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) president and Dockers’ Section chair.

‘The Liberals in Ottawa have made a shameful choice by siding with one of the most virulent, aggressive, anti-worker employers in North America – the Maritime Employers Association – to remove workers’ right to strike. In doing so, they are setting fire to Canada’s human rights and labour rights record.’

Crumlin continued: ‘Every worker in every country in the world has a right to withdraw their labour. No one can make you work, especially if you are withdrawing your labour as part of a legitimate collective bargaining process.’

The Montréal strike began after employers in the MEA stalled negotiations for months while they actively made life harder for the dockworkers, hoping to impose even less family-friendly rosters and conditions on them.

The ITF’s Paddy Crumlin said: ‘Right now, dockers at the port have to be available for shifts 19 of 21 designated consecutive days.

‘The employer has the right to call those workers in on any of those days and can change the shifts from afternoon to graveyard hours overnight as its own discretion.

‘In practice, all workers labour 19 days of the 21 before they can take leave. Honestly, who would want to work this way?’ said Crumlin.

‘The modern dockers workforce is diverse, with many younger workers, and with more women than in years gone by. Family and caring commitments require a healthy work-life balance, predictable rostering and enough respect from their employer to know where to draw the line between work and home. Right now, the members of Local 375 only have a work life.

‘Collective bargaining is the way we address these anti-family practices at work. It’s how we achieve a balance. By ripping away the right to strike, Justin Trudeau has shown he is content to let employers push women, parents and carers out of the workforce. That is shameful,’ slammed Crumlin.

‘The law was announced before the strike began. The legislation was tabled just hours into our legal strike. In defending it in Parliament, the Liberal’s made repeated reference to the pandemic, arguing that “now is not the time to strike”,’ said Martin Lapierre, president of Syndicat des débardeurs du port de Montréal/CUPE Local 375.

‘But if they came and asked us, instead of just reading talking points provided by MEA lobbyist and former Liberal MP Nicola Di Iorio, we could have told them about our long-standing commitment to move any containers containing essential commodities, including medical equipment, even if on strike.

‘The fact is that we have made the offer to let medical supplies go through, publicly and repeatedly, to the Minister of Labour,’ said Lapierre. ‘We have also offered – again, repeatedly and in public to the Minister of Labour – to return to work and continue bargaining if the employer would return to respecting the present collective agreement.

‘The Liberals have teamed up with Conservatives and big business to launch this attack on all working people. We might be the first to have our rights ripped from us – but if they are allowed to get away with this, we won’t be the last.

‘We are up for the fight – and we hope the working families of Canada and across the world stand with us. We know the ITF global union family has our backs,’ Lapierre said.

Meanwhile, a strike wave is sweeping across Canada, with nearly 500 workers at the Nestlé Canada manufacturing plant in Toronto beginning indefinite strike action on May Day, Saturday 1st May.

The workers’ union, Unifor Local 252, has announced that more than 470 members from the 72 Sterling Road Factory went on strike from midnight on Friday night after contract negotiations between the two parties broke down.

‘It’s a sad state of affairs,’ said Eamonn Clarke, President of Unifor Local 252, said in a press release.

‘We’ve opened the door to precarious work, and the company has taken advantage of it, using it to line their own pockets, make more profits, and they don’t want to share anything with the workers.’

The workers, who manufacture Kit Kat, Aero, Coffee Crisp and Smarties, have been in a legal strike position since midnight on April 30.

Clarke said a few contracts ago, the committee worked to get the contract workers – roughly 80 of them – made permanent on temporary basis.

Nestle agreed every year to take 10 more of them and move them up to a P1 status, which would make them permanent and entitled to benefits.

‘Full-time work should mean a full-time job,’ said Jerry Dias, Unifor National President. ‘Precarious work, and specifically the use of temporary workers in a permanent full-time capacity, is a growing problem. The gig economy, especially during the pandemic, has shown that Nestlé should be ashamed.’

There are a couple of temporary workers at Nestle who for more than two years are not getting 1,000 hours a year.

The company said it would move temporary workers automatically to full-time status when they reach 8,000 hours – an impossible feat, especially if they have family obligations.

‘The company’s been dragging their feet,’ said Dias.

Elsewhere, 32 workers at a federal Covid-19 quarantine hotel in Richmond went on strike on Monday morning in protest over ‘mass firings’ and ‘wage rollbacks.’

The Pacific Gateway employees, according to their union – Unite Here Local 40 – walked out on strike at 5am.

The Cessna Drive hotel has been used by the federal government for the last year or so to quarantine passengers arriving at the airport.

According to the union, the hotel has already terminated 103 workers, 42 of them last weekend, with nearly two-thirds of those laid off being women.

Many of them had been working at the hotel for decades and had been on temporary leave since the start of the pandemic.

The union has told how workers were displaced when the federal government took over the hotel last year under a quarantine order and brought in the Red Cross to perform their duties.

According to the union, the federal government has extended its contract several times and has ‘looked the other way as hard-hit workers, many of them women from the South Asian and Chinese communities, pay the price.’

One of the workers laid off on the weekend was Pardeep Thandi, a room attendant who served the hotel for 27 years.

‘Prime Minster Trudeau, I was fired this past weekend after 27 years of service. Is this what you call a feminist recovery?’ Thandi said in a news release.

‘I have three girls – one in Grade 5, one in high school, and another in college. I raised them on this job.

‘Pacific Gateway is outright attacking women and our federal government is doing nothing to stop it. You said you would prioritise women in Canada’s economic recovery – but you’ve failed us.

‘That’s why I’m on the picket line today with women like me. We’re not going to give up on everything we worked so hard for.’

‘The union said hotel management is using the Covid-19 crisis to propose permanent changes to “undermine job security and make the work more precarious”.

‘The employer wants a 7-year contract that would reduce many workers’ hourly pay to minimum wage. That would mean as much as $2.00 to $6.50/hour less for servers, hostesses, baristas, dishwashers, and others.

‘The employer also wants to eliminate workers’ current union health and pension benefits, force them to share tips with management, allow for subcontracting and make changes that would allow the hotel to circumvent overtime, eliminate paid time off and severance, among other cuts.’

The hotel’s demands, say the union, are very similar to those made by Hilton Metrotown which locked out its hotel staff last month.

Both hotels are represented by Hospitality Industrial Relations (HIR), which issued a lockout notice last week to 1,200 hospitality workers who work at 32 other hotels, motels, and liquor establishments across British Columbia.

Elsewhere, Ontario’s air ambulance paramedics have raised the possibility of going on strike – an ‘absolute last consideration’ if they can’t land an exemption from a provincial law that caps their salaries.

Unifor, the union representing Ornge workers, said on Sunday that paramedics voted 94 per cent in favour of strike action, if necessary, in a vote tabulated last Friday.

Ornge paramedics have taken issue with Bill 124, which came into effect in 2019 and caps public sector wage increases to one per cent a year.

Unifor National President Jerry Dias called the wage-cap law a ‘foolish piece of legislation’ in a press conference on Sunday, adding that the one per cent bump is ‘well below even the rate of inflation.’

‘Enough is enough,’ Dias said. ‘We can’t keep telling people how essential they are how important (they are), and then pass legislation that takes these paramedics and puts them into a separate bucket than all the other paramedics in this province. That doesn’t make any sense.’