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Employers, companies, CEOs, entrepreneurs and capitalists are all seeking to cut costs inn order to boost profit margins. There are a number of ways to do this, such as outsourcing to offshore labour, importing cheap labour, cutting back on workers' hard won benefits in renegotiated contracts, investing in intensive automation or scaling back the number of employees doing the same work. They often enlist the powers of the government in order to achieve legislative and legal restraints. They are not even above soliciting the help of racists and neo-Nazi types to enforce a violent discipline such as a planned march on the international day against racist discrimination. On the side of the employees is the union, which does not always work out depending on whether or not it is a company union or internally corrupt. Unions used to be fighting unions, but that day appears to be mostly over, especially with essential services legislation and legalized strike breaking forcing people to accept losses in wages and benefits. Arguments like high unemployment and a poor economy are used to justify the injustices that occur in the light of inflation, devaluation and high competition between contractors and job seekers.

People who come to Canada from around the world to seek their fortune end up having to run a gauntlet as described above and the additional obstacle of xenophobia. This is the imported labour force hired on at low wages due to propaganda sources in their homeland advertizing fabulous possibilities, ignorance of the true state of affairs in their adopted homeland and ethnic barriers. They often wind up working in conditions of low wages, hard, unhealthy, dangerous and dirty work that other people refuse to do if they can get better employment. Yet, during times of economic duress, such as in Britain during 2008-10, locals can be whipped up to support anti-immigrant hysteria in a bid to drive them out so that locals can get jobs for locals even though they are undesirable jobs. Immigrants become increasingly targets of attack and some return to their homeland in defeat. Lately this brand of fascism has emerged in the US and Canada for the same reasons. This reality is surfacing in Vancouver. It is also expressed in pressure to roll back benefits and freeze wages. In the case of British Columbia, the minimum wages has not changed for the last nine years, since the beginning of the Campbell Liberal era in 2001. BC thus has the highest rate of poverty in Canada where one in five children are not getting enough to eat. Vancouver, being a port city has a high percentile of ethnic backgrounds as opposed to those born in Canada communities. There is a high number of Asians from China, Japan, the Philippines, India, Korea and other places. Some imported communities are old and some a newer. The older immigrants have typically been “Canadianized”, even losing the ability to speak their original native tongue and their identity with their ethic backgrounds. Newer ones make up the bulk who have to learn English as a second language and are easily identified by their inability to speak fluent English or french. There are a huge number of ESL schools to service these newcomers. But as some ethic groups are more predominant than even English speaking Canadians on the west coast, it can be argued that Canada's second language should be Mandarin or Cantonese; not French as in Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes. This melting pot of ethnicity generates a vast pool of cheap labour and the backlash of ethnic prejudice.

Since the sub-prime crisis of Sept.-Oct. 2008, the economy has taken a sharp downturn and as a result, substantial downward pressure has been exerted on all employees in the form of downsizing, give-back contracts and frozen wages. Locally, a typical example has emerged where just this kind of thing has emerged and the response is to attempt to negotiate and serve a strike threat. SerVantage Co. who perform cleaning services in many locations in Vancouver is in a legal position to go on strike. The government also has its strategy that has been in effect for many years where workers are simply legislated back to work. In short, bargaining rights have been removed for the employee and the strength of the employer has been enhanced. The roots of this lie in the Friedman school of economic philosophy, which has been loosely applied in all of BC.

Details of one such give back contract by the SerVantage Co. include several items such as;

  • Reducing the minimum call out for a shift to 3 hours instead of 4 hours. (The new BC law stipulates 4 hours)

  • Changing how long it takes to get to a higher rate of pay from 1800 hours to 2600 hours. (225 8 hour work days up to 325 similar days)

  • No increases in wages. Any increase would come out of the employee benefit plan.

  • No increase in the lead hand premium in the collective agreement.

  • Increasing the employee probation period from 300 hours to 850 hours. (37.5 eight hour work days to 106.25 eight hour days; a nearly three fold increase)

  • Current seniority accumulation for paid vacations increases a year for three weeks and five years for a 4 week vacation. The current base rate is 15 years service.

  • The creation of sub-category specializations within the work place to create a multiple tiered wage workplace with so called special jobs being paid less than the current contractual wage.

Issues of job place Harassment and discrimination are being glossed over by the company as is recourse to grievance procedure. The current structure is encumbered with too much bureaucracy and red tape. There is an attempt to stabilize the health benefit plane, but the company wants to increase the qualification period to 850 hours worked before benefits are allowed. There are questions on workloads as well. Many employees are already handling excessive work loads that often force them into unpaid and voluntary overtime. There are many other issues as well, too numerous to elucidate here. We now look at working conditions for the same company.

The employees have to do the following work with inadequate equipment and health standards, criticized by the more informed employees.

  • Working with hazardous chemicals such as chlorine and wax removers. There are hundreds of hazardous workplace chemicals that are covered in the WHMIS manuals that are used, often with improper training.

  • Exposing non-associated work forces such as security and night time building and demolition contractors to the same hazards.

  • Inadequate protection in the form of paper face masks instead of proper protective respirators.

  • Inadequate ventilation while in the contaminated environments.

  • Handling of potential communicable diseases placed in areas by those who are in early pre-symptom stages of diseases like H1N1, Salmonella, Hepatitis and so on.

  • Transmitting said disease to the public at large because of company refusal to clean uniforms.

  • Handling of other hidden hazardous material like improperly disposed needles, broken glass and the like.

  • Handling of bio-hazards.

  • Working in exposed environment without personal protection, such as outdoors in extreme weather or in threatening situations from outsiders, particularly where prejudice is concerned.

Though there are those like neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klaners and white supremacists who are critical of immigrants taking jobs they can have, by the foregoing we can see that these are jobs and working conditions that are not desirable for most potential, non-ethnic employees. What should be done is to work across ethnic lines for the common goal for better working conditions and full support by way of remuneration and benefits to erase poverty jobs or what has been termed the working poor for all employees. This means full rights to immigrants and wages commensurate to the best paid homeland employee of a similar occupation. Immigrants who have made it to Canada and the US should be given full citizenship rights without the threat of deportation due to the uncertainties of the economy. They should receive full protection against harassment and discrimination as a basic human right. This will take more than union bargaining in the current repressive political climate that would rather legislate people back to a worse contractual situation than the working poor would accept if they had more say in the matter. The current situation demands an awakened working class that will wrest the economy form profiteers and speculators and form a planned economy run by the entire proletariat that benefits the whole of the people instead of for profit.

In the meantime, SerVantage workers need our unconditional support. Picket lines mean Do not cross. Scab replacements have to be blocked. A security cordon of supporters has to be erected to stop racist attacks.

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Tags: Anti-discrimination, Anti-poverty, Ethnic, Human, Immigrants, Worker, rights, struggle


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