Top News

LANA PAYNE: The war on workers

The Ecofiscal Commission says carbon taxes will have to rise by $20 per tonne each year after 2022 until they hit $210 per tonne in 2030.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford (left) and Alberta United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney, at an anti-carbon tax rally last October. — JEFF MCINTOSH/THE CANADIAN PRESS/VIA POSTMEDIA

Watch for similarities from the playbooks being used by conservatives in Canada and the U.S.

The war on workers and their rights is gaining speed and ground in Canada with a wave of conservative governments from Alberta to New Brunswick.

Every day ushers in another surge of attacks on workers, their rights, and hard-fought gains. Pretending to be a friend of workers, these conservative politicians are stabbing workers in the back while grinning broadly and giving us a vigorous handshake.

Most Canadians are currently being governed by conservative regimes and with it a rollback of important progress.

In Alberta, one of the first acts of Premier Jason Kenney and his government was to undo improvements to labour rights in that province, including slashing the wages of young workers, making it harder to join a union, and cutting overtime pay.

The government cut the minimum wage for young workers by $2 an hour. Nothing says bully like exploiting teenagers.

At the same time, the Kenney government is offering up a massive tax cut to the big corporations. Effectively, wealthy oil companies can pad their bottom line at the expense of health care and education. In order to pay for the $1.7-billion annual and unaffordable tax break, the government will argue it needs to cut public services.

Most Canadians are currently being governed by conservative regimes and with it a rollback of important progress.

In summary, Kenney’s first weeks in government: wage cuts for workers and tax cuts for the rich and powerful. And he is just getting started.

The expectation is his government will also go after union rights in the fall, after the federal election so as not to give Andrew Scheer too many headaches before Canadians go to the polls.

Alex Himelfarb, formerly Canada’s top civil servant, noted in a recent speech that austerity — the belief that cutting taxes and government spending is the solution to whatever ails us — is toxic to the social fabric of the country.

“Canadians have been living with austerity for several decades. Ours has been an austerity in slow motion, but austerity nonetheless and austerity largely self-imposed.”

He argues the most dangerous and insidious impact of austerity is the cultural or social psychological damage.

“Austerity has significantly shaped our political culture, our sense of what and whom government is for. Simply, when government is not there for people, when it seems to serve the powerful few, not the many, why vote, why pay taxes? If the game is rigged, why pay, why play?”

Just check out Ontario. Where a premier who rode to power saying he was “for the people (for the little guy)” has all but abandoned that little guy in favour of helping out his powerful friends.

The same playbook is well advanced. The Ford government also was quick to attack gains for workers by slashing important workplace changes for millions of Ontario workers — those with no union protections.

He eliminated two paid sick days, requirements on employers to schedule hours, and of course froze wages for two years for the lowest paid workers in the province.

In addition, Ford has announced a series of education reforms that include the firing of 3,400 teachers because this somehow will make kids more resilient with even more courses being taught online. (Just what teenagers need, more screen time.) His government has slashed funding for children with autism, and a slew of other cuts, including to public health, that have seen his polling numbers fall like a lead balloon.

This has not deterred him. This past week, the government announced wage restraint for about one million workers across the public sector.

South of the border, it’s the same story.

In a recent and lengthy editorial entitled “Trump’s war on workers’ rights,” the New York Times listed the numerous ways the Trump government is no friend of workers.

The editorial board noted that the Trump government has changed the rules for who must be paid minimum wage and who must be paid overtime; asked the Supreme Court to rule that companies can fire workers on the basis of sexual orientation; reduced workplace safety inspectors to the lowest level ever and undermined collective bargaining and unions.

The New York Times concluded of the Trump administration, “the broader pattern of actions and inaction, is sending a clear message to American workers: You’re on your own.”

Canadians, and in particular working Canadians, can expect the same from a federal government led by Conservative Andrew Scheer.

He will pretend to be a friend of the workers, but in reality he will do exactly as his conservative buddies are doing around the world and across the country – rolling back the clock on workers’ rights, attacking unions for standing up and defending workers, and implementing austerity. It’s the playbook.

And it’s up to workers and Canadians not to believe the wolves draped in sheep’s clothing.

Lana Payne is the Atlantic director for Unifor. She can be reached by email at lanapaynenl@gmail.com. Twitter: @lanampayne Her column returns in two weeks.


MORE FROM LANA PAYNE
• Class warfare and carbon taxes
• Harper 2.0? No thanks

Recent Stories