Thursday, September 04, 2008

Labour Day was more than just a day off for the BC Fed

As British Columbians took advantage of the last long weekend of the summer and looked ahead to another fall and winter season to come, the BC Federation of Labour was delivering a message to the Gordon Campbell Liberals.

As part of their annual Labour Day observance, the Federation led a rally at Vancouver’s Art Gallery to call to attention the recent salary increases provided to senior bureaucrats while the province’s residents were handed an increased gas tax bill and yet another refusal to increase the province’s minimum wage structure.

The mood of the labour movement both across the province and locally in Prince Rupert was featured in a Daily News article on Tuesday, which provided some of the key points in the BC Fed battles with the Campbell Liberals.

The Daily followed up the union perspective with a counter point article in Wednesday's paper featuring the thoughts and opinions of the B. C. Labour Minister Iain Black.
In the course of his message to the people, Minister Black outlined why he felt that a rise in the minimum wage to ten dollars would be nothing short of catastrophic!

Labour Day rallies send message home to government
Minimum wage one of the biggest bones of contention, say unions
By Kris Schumacher
The Daily News
Tuesday, September 2, 2008
Pages one and three

Labour Day has always been a day that Canadians celebrate the labour movement and all the social and economic achievements of workers past and present, but many unions in British Columbia took the day to send a message to the provincial government. The B. C. Federation of Labour led a rally yesterday at the Vancouver Art Gallery to protest the recent raises for Premier Gordon Campbell and top bureaucrats, the government’s gas tax and the failure to increase minimum wage from $8 an hour.

Locally, that isn’t going to cut it, said MLA Gary Coons.

“When we start looking at the seven or eight last years when minimum wage has not been increased, where we have one of the lowest minimum wage rates in the country, I would say we have been calling for minimum wage to be increased to $10 and increase with the rat of inflation,” he said. “We believe the B. C. Liberal government is out of touch with working families. Prince Rupert is definitely a vulnerable city, when you start looking at our unemployment rate and we have probably one of the highest rates of social assistance.”

“The B.C. Liberals and their heartland strategy has been a dismal failure for the small communities and we need to have to definitely work on a rural strategy and this government has failed to do that,” said Coons.

In regards to whether or not small businesses in Prince Rupert can shoulder a $2 wage increase, Coons said: “I strongly believe that as we move forward that people adjust and I would think that as we look at what’s fair and adequate that an increase in minimum wage should be done.”

Coons statements were echoed across the province on Labour Day, including at the Vancouver Art Gallery protest.

“The Campbell government shouldn’t be widening the gap between the rich and the rest of us, but that is exactly what their policies have done,” said Jim Sinclair, President of the B. C. Federation of Labour.

“Those exorbitant salary increases for senior government officials have outrage British Columbians and should be reversed.

“The minimum wage should be increased to $10 an hour and something must be done to help people cope with wildly rising energy costs. These are the concerns of British Columbians but clearly not the concerns of the government.”

The Labour Day rally saw a truck and car convoy depart the Highway 91 north of Highway 10 at a trucker’s stop just after 8:30 a.m. and ended at the Vancouver Art Gallery on Robson Street where the rally began at 11 a.m. The B. C. Nurses’ Union was one of many unions who participated in the Labour Day rally, with president Debra McPherson addressing several issues, including the negative impacts the gas tax has on community nurses and people who need care in their homes and communities.

“It’s time for this government to start listening to the people who are struggling to survive and to support the nurses and other health care workers who provide the care we need across. B. C.,” said McPherson.

Yesterday New Democrat MLAs also attended events across B. C. including the Vancouver rally to collect signatures on NDP petitions urging Gordon Campbell to raise B. C.’s minimum wage and roll back massive pay hikes for his deputies.

“For seven years, Gordon Campbell has refused to give B. C.’s poorest workers a small raise. But had no qualms approving massive pay hikes for his top executives,” said NDP leader Carole James.

“The Campbell Liberals are showing the signs of a government that’s been in power for too long,” said James.

Outgoing CAW National President Buzz Hargrove also made Labour Day comments in the form of an open letter to Canadians that was sent to newsrooms across the country, stating his concerns for our country moving forward at what he called a “critical juncture” for the Canadian economy.

“Many Canadians are demanding their tax dollars be used wisely – such as support regional development initiatives, and supporting government efforts to use public funds to buy Canadian products,” said Hargrove.

“Canadians are also speaking out against the false promises of right-wing governments and pundits that free trade, deregulation and privatization policies would bring about prosperity and higher standards of living – policies that have only made things worse for millions of workers. Change is on the agenda.

“There’s no doubt. And labour has an important role to play. This Labour Day, it’s important that unions recommit themselves to being the vehicle for this change – moving it beyond rhetoric and making it a reality for Canadians.”

Minister addresses B. C. Labour’s minimum wage demands
Minister claims that raising minimum wage to $10 would be ‘catastrophic’
By Kris Schumacher
The Daily News
Wednesday, September 3, 2008
Pages one and five

Provincial labour unions are adamant that the government of British Columbia raise the minimum wage to $10 an hour, but Labour Minister Iain Black claims doing so would be catastrophic to the economy.

“The bottom line is only Carol James and the NDP would follow the lead of the B. C. Federation of Labour in supporting an uninformed economic policy that would immediately kill 30,000 to 40,000 jobs and hurt the most vulnerable families in B. C.” said Black.

“There’s no decision that’s been made to ‘freeze’ the minimum wage, that’s absolutely ridiculous.

“Raising the minimum wage by two dollars is some of the most foolhardy economic policy that I’ve ever heard.”

The Minister said it was easy for the B. C. Federation of Labour to call for a raise of the minimum wage to $10 an hour, since none of the people who would lose their jobs as a result are members of the Federation.

“You’ve got to ask yourself why they are waving this flag? It’s because if you can get minimum wage to go up and you’ve got a whole bunch of (contract) negotiations one and two years from now, that’s a marvelous stepping stone for negotiation positions on their part,” said Black.

“Jim Sinclair and the B. C. Fed have a job to do, which is a good job and an important job, and that’s to look out for the interests of their members, and that is what this is about.

“This is not an issue of social justice for the B. C. Federation of Labour, because if they felt that way they would be thinking about the 30,000 people who would lose their jobs almost overnight.”

With small businesses employing the majority of low wage earners, they would be the most affected by a potential increase in minimum wage, he said.

Black believes that faced with the prospect of paying employees more, small business staffs of six or seven employees would be immediately cut.

“A small business owner can only do one of three things when faced with such a large payroll increase,” said Black.

“They either lay off people, pass along the extra costs to the consumer, or go out of business altogether.”

What Black said is important for people to realize is that monitoring and reviewing the minimum wage is a task that Labour Ministers in every province complete regularly with senior advisors and economists and discussion within the cabinet, and was one of the first briefings Black requested when he became Labour Minister two and half months ago.

“When we raise the minimum wage, it will be a thoughtful, responsible and well-researched policy shift. It will not be this random and damaging false profit being proposed for political convenience by the B. C. Fed through their NDP servants,” concluded Black.

“That’s just not going to happen.”

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