EDMONTON - Jason Kenney’s economic recovery plan won’t be worth the paper it’s written on if, as expected, he pairs it with a brutal attack on worker rights that strips working Albertans of bargaining power and suppresses their wages.
That was the assessment offered by Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, in the hours before Kenney was scheduled to deliver his much-hyped economic blueprint.
“If the COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated anything, it’s that ordinary working people are the real engines of our economy,” says McGowan. “It’s their work that drives production and their spending that drives consumption. Any plan that ignores this basic fact, and instead focuses on coddling corporations while crushing workers, will weaken our provincial economy, not strengthen it.”
McGowan says the issue of worker bargaining power needs to be front-and-centre in any discussion of the economy, especially as we struggle to recover from the economic damage caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and a long-term and persistent global oil and gas glut.
“There will be no true recovery if wages are suppressed,” says McGowan. “Employers are already using growing unemployment and the economic uncertainty associated with the COVID-19 crisis to put the screws to their employees. We’re seeing it with Sobey’s/Safeway as they cancel pandemic pay and demand concessions from employees at the same that they’re using their record profits to buy back shares and increase dividends to shareholders. We’re also seeing it in Edmonton where the metal fabricator, Cessco, has used the downturn as a pretext to lock-out its workers in an aggressive bid to slash their wages. In this climate, the last thing we need is for our provincial government to make it easier for employers to squeeze their workers. When workers lose, the economy loses.”
McGowan says Albertans should look at what has happened in the United States over the past 30 years as a cautionary tale.
“For decades now, right-wing Republican legislators, at the behest of their billionaire benefactors, have passed laws aimed at weakening worker bargaining power. The result is that more than 40 percent of Americans now earn less than $15 per hour; almost all of the country’s economic growth has been gobbled up by the top 1 percent; and the American middle class is on life support. That’s why I’m very skeptical of Kenney’s plan for economic recovery. If it’s paired with US-style tactics to suppress wages and worker bargaining power, things in this province are going to get worse, not better, for ordinary working people. And, if the economy isn’t working for ordinary working people, then it’s not really working at all.”
Aside from Kenney’s plans for worker rights, McGowan said the other thing people should be looking for in the UCP’s recovery plan are policies for child care and school re-opening. If we don’t have plans in place to provide universal access to quality, affordable child care – and if we don’t have robust plans for re-opening schools safely – then tens of thousands of working Albertans (especially mothers) will be effectively excluded from returning to work and participating fully in the economy.
“The bottom line is this,” says McGowan. “If the UCP attacks worker rights in a bid to suppress worker bargaining power and wages; and if they ignore the needs of working parents by refusing to address the child care crisis; then their economic plan will end up hindering the recovery, not helping it.”
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