Report of the Regional Executive Vice-President, Prairies to the Manitoba Federation of Labour Executive Council submitted for the February 2016 meeting. This report covers the period from the last MFL meeting.
Marianne Hladun, Regional Executive Vice-President
Public Service Alliance of Canada, Prairie Region
Report to the Manitoba Federation of Labour Executive Council
The New Year has been a mixed bag for the PSAC Prairie Region. We are still recovering from hurricane Harper but this means that the worst is hopefully over and we can start to rebuild; that said, the Liberals have not veered significantly from the Conservatives at the bargaining table. Our focus now is rebuilding, meeting with new and returning Members of Parliament and no concessions at the bargaining table. Separately, we also have two difficult provincial elections to contend with in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. In short, we have no shortage of struggles ahead.
REVERSING THE DAMAGE
It has been difficult to assess the damage done to the prairies by the Harper Conservatives. We partnered with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives-Manitoba and released a report on February 24 that helps assess the damage and charts a way forward. I would like to take some time to detail the impacts on Manitoba, as they are relevant to sisters and brothers in the Manitoba Federation of Labour.
Reversing the Damage notes that 4,766 civil service jobs were lost in the prairie region alone between 2010 and 2015 (1,875 in Manitoba). According to the report, cuts to Employment and Social Development Canada will halve the number of staff dealing with Canadians calling for information about Employment Insurance (EI) if these cuts are not halted by 2017. This loss in staff has resulted in significant increases in wait times and anxiety for people while also increasing stress, sick leave and overtime for employees.
Regarding Parks Canada, there were 638 full-time positions eliminated across the country. Riding Mountain National Park in Manitoba now relies upon volunteers to maintain the ski trails. These volunteers are concerned that people will start skiing elsewhere and not return to the park if trails are not maintained. Parks Canada’s science and research capacity has also diminished, putting research and species at further risk.
Regarding agriculture, the Beef Cattle Program at the Brandon Research Development Centre not only cut jobs but also removed economic activity of the largest research herd in western Canada (approximately 800 head). Local producers of fuel, building materials, feed and bedding, as well as local veterinarians have noticed the loss.
Separately, although the 2012 closure of the Cereal Research Centre at the University of Manitoba did not result in direct layoffs of research staff, the private-sector takeover of the centre’s seed-breeding program is a serious concern. Up to 50 percent of the wheat and oat crops in Canada come from varieties developed at the centre and that public investment gives very high returns: for every dollar invested, twenty dollars is returned. This is a significant public revenue benefit and also fosters research and innovation that the private sector is less likely to invest in.
Lastly, the complete mothballing of the Community Pastures Program will likely have significant implications for the prairies. The lands are being turned over to the control of the respective provinces and Saskatchewan – which has 1.77 million of the over 2 million acres under the program – plans to sell or lease the pastures to patrons, thereby transferring its obligation to conserve and protect the land into private hands.
Manitoba’s 400,000 acres will fall under the control of the provincial government and as of October, 2015, 14 of the 23 community pastures were taken over by the province with the remaining 9 slated for transfer to the province. The biggest outstanding question for Manitoba is what this will mean for legislative and environmental protections. There are also contiguous lands that cross over into Saskatchewan. The CCPA report closes with a series of recommendations that I would encourage everyone to read.
Our members were mobilized for the federal elections and, while there is significant fatigue, members are stepping up as provincial elections in Saskatchewan and Manitoba approach. Our provincial election efforts are focused on a mail out to all members in Saskatchewan and Manitoba and separate telephone town halls for members in each province. The Manitoba town hall is tentatively scheduled for either April 5 or 12. We are communicating with Elections Manitoba to insure that we comply with third party regulations.
We have been participating in weekly conference calls organized by the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour (SFL) as they mobilize around their campaign, #NotListening. The campaign is focused on how the Saskatchewan Party are not listening on four key issues: rising costs of living; privatization and protecting Crown Corporations; lack of accountability and cuts to services. Kent Peterson of the SFL gave an excellent presentation about the campaign to the PSAC Prairie Region Council meeting on Saturday, February 20, in Saskatoon. We will continue to participate in the SFL’s weekly calls and mobilize our membership leading up to the elections.
We are also actively supporting the Manitoba Federation of Labour campaign, Fairness for Everyone. We have been promoting the campaign website in our correspondence with membership and via social media. We are encouraging people to visit the website and sign up for updates. We are happy to support the campaign however we can, so please let us know what we can do. We are also in communication with Make Poverty History Manitoba to support their leadership debate on poverty and social policy.
We are very excited to be hosting our first Waskawetohta (Taking Action) Conference for First Nation, Inuit and Métis activists. Taking place from April 22 to 24 in Winnipeg, this conference will bring together roughly 25 Aboriginal PSAC activist members to develop an action plan for Aboriginal issues for the Prairie Region.
PSAC sister Gloria Kelly presented at a provincial standing committee on February 18 alongside the MFL in support of Bill 8, The Employment Standards Code Amendment Act (Leave for Victims of Domestic Violence, Leave for Serious Injury or Illness and Extension of Compassionate Care Leave). This Bill is groundbreaking legislation with Manitoba the first Canadian jurisdiction to move forward providing employment protection for victims of domestic violence. Our social media posts in favour of the Bill had strong traction.
We had our Winnipeg Area Council AGM on February 24 and a violence prevention workshop in Federally regulated workplaces on February 27; the Winnipeg Regional Women’s Committee AGM took place on March 1 as we prepare for International Women’s Day and the Winnipeg Human Rights Committee is taking place on March 8.
Currently in Manitoba, we are in negotiations with several units. We have exchanged demands with CAHRD (Centre for Aboriginal Human Resource Development). We are in negotiations with the University of Winnipeg for our academic unit. We have dates set to begin negotiations with OmniTrax Canada for our members at the Port of Churchill and just recently ratified a first collective agreement at the Churchill Marine Tank Farm. Negotiations are underway with the Royal Canadian Mint security officers. A tentative agreement with all other members at the Mint was ratified in December. We are also preparing for negotiations at the Canadian Museum of Human Rights.
In February, I was part of a trade union delegation to Bangladesh. Members of PSAC, CUPE, USW and UNIFOR met with labour activists to assess progress of worker health and safety following to the Rana Plaza collapse and the Tazreen factory fire. I am preparing a presentation for June to the PSAC National Board of Directors and would offer to provide a presentation to MFL Executive at the fall meeting. Needless to say but even though there is much work to be done in Canada, I am even more grateful for the protections and freedoms we enjoy.
Regional Executive Vice-President
Public Service Alliance of Canada, Prairies