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Road worker safety law passed

On Wednesday, December 4, Bill 2, the proposed road worker safety law was passed by the Manitoba legislature. The bill enables the province's plan to make road construction workplaces safer for workers.

The new law, announced by Labour Minister Erna Braun on November 15, 2013, will enable regulations that:

  • require clear signage that tells drivers entering construction zones exactly when they need to slow down and by how much;
  • double regular fines for speeding in construction zones;
  • establish strong requirements for traffic safety management in construction zones;
  • specify when traffic control devices such as barriers and rumble strips are required to protect; workers.

The new road worker safety plan was announced after Manitoba Federation of Labour (MFL) President Kevin Rebeck issued an open letter to the Labour Minister in August calling for better safety rules.

When the MFL spoke in favour of the new law at a legislative committee hearing, he said: "Road workers need drivers to slow down. Drivers need clear signs telling them exactly what speed limits are in effect. And employers need to know what is expected of them to operate a safe workplace. Bill 2 is a necessary step in accomplishing all of these things." 

Earlier in December, the new law had been blocked in the legislature by Manitoba's Progressive Conservative opposition. The opposition reversed its position after public pleas from the Manitoba Federation of Labour and the family of Brittany Murray, a young flagger killed at a highway construction site in 2010.

Canada Post: essential until it's not

The end of door-to-door mail delivery service in urban neighbourhoods across the country grabbed the headlines Thursday after Canada Post announced a five-point action plan to "financial sustainability."

Let’s set aside the irony of Transport Minister Lisa Raitt, in charge of the crown corporation, praising the planned major service cuts.

She’s the same minister, in her capacity as Labour Minister, who talked up the essential nature of the mail service when she brought in back-to-work legislation to end a lockout.

"The work stoppage at Canada Post is expected to have an immeasurable impact on our economy, resulting in losses of about $9 million to $31 million per week. Every day that means more jobs at risk, more productivity lost, more challenges for businesses, and more uncertainty for consumers," Raitt said back in 2011.

Now, Raitt is praising Canada Post "modernization" plan. (Her cabinet colleague, Peter Van Loan, went off-script when he attacked critics of Canada Post's planned service cuts, likening it to when the rich in Toronto's tony Rosedale neighbourhood complained when city garbage collectors stopped walking up driveways to grab people's trash cans.)

What you won’t hear her talk about openly is the privatization of postal services. But that could be the next step for an embattled organization that’s alienating its customers with service cuts and price hikes. That's often the playbook toward privatization.

The Conservatives already have plenty of cover for publicly getting behind that agenda. A report from the C.D. Howe Institute released a few months ago called for the contracting-out of routes and outsourcing services to the private sector.

And conservative-minded commentators seized on the moment Thursday by pressing for the privatization of Canada Post. Drawing inspiration from the pending sale of the Royal Mail in Britain and citing the privatization of post offices throughout Europe, the Canadian headlines say it all:

Canada Post’s monopoly has got to go; The penny should drop; End Canada Post’s mail monopoly; Privatize Canada Post; and Stamp Out Canada Post.

FedEx and UPS must be smiling.

Originally published by Press Progress

All in a Day’s Work? CEO Pay in Canada

Five years after a global recession knocked the wind out of Canada’s labour market, throwing tens of thousands of workers onto the unemployment line and sidelining a generation of young workers, the compensation of Canada’s CEO elite continues to sail along.

A new study from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, All in a Day’s Work? CEO Pay in Canada, takes a snapshot of the 240 publicly listed Canadian corporations on the TSX Index, ranks the highest paid 100 CEOs on that list, and determines their average total compensation.

Watch how much top CEOs have earned so far this year compared with the average Canadian worker HERE.

The Living Wage: An Idea Whose Time Has Come

Minimum-wage workers are not just teenagers working at fast-food restaurants after school. According to the Manitoba Federation of Labour, 55 per cent of minimum wage earners in Manitoba are adults twenty years and older; 51 per cent of minimum-wage earners work for companies with 100 workers or more and 42 per cent work for companies with 500 or more employees. With approximately 38,600 Manitobans earning minimum wage ($10.45/hour) and fully 73,700 Manitobans making only 10% more, we need to ask if the minimum wage provides sufficient income to raise a family.

Whether it be throughout the US, Canada or the UK, the inadequacy of the minimum wage to meet basic needs is well documented. When tens of thousands of American fast-food workers walked off the job for one day, they did so to deliver a message: they cannot survive on minimum wage jobs. In the August 2013 edition of The New Yorker, James Suirowiecki, explains that 46 per cent of family income in the US is earned by low-wage workers, a figure that demonstrates the sea change in the American economy which has shifted many middle-class workers to the new precarious labour market. This phenomenon is not restricted to the US.

According to CIBC senior economist Benjamin Tal, “There’s clearly a movement from high-paying professional, public sector and construction jobs to lower-paying and retail jobs. Even within manufacturing, there’s a movement from high-paying manufacturing jobs to lower paying.” Mr. Tal goes on to explain why this trend is problematic; low-income earners have less disposable income and cannot provide much-needed demand in the economy. But the problems do not end there.

Low-income families – many working more than 1 job/parent – face difficult choices: pay the rent or buy food; forego dental care in order to buy school supplies; put off saving for retirement in order pay off some debt. Parents faced with these dilemmas are stressed to the point of becoming physically ill and/or depressed. Their children suffer as a result; they do worse in school and endure health problems of their own. These issues in turn cost both employers – in terms of lower productivity, absenteeism and employee turnover – and society in terms of healthcare costs, lower effective demand and revenues paid to income tax. In short, the effects of low wages are not just suffered by the employers who pay them, they are externalized in the form of social exclusion and higher costs to government. If families could earn a living wage, many of these effects would be lessened.

A living wage is different from the minimum wage, being the legal minimum employers must pay. A living wage is based on the principle that fulltime work should provide families with a basic level of economic security. It allows a family of four with two parents working fulltime to pay for necessities, support the healthy development of their children, escape financial stress, and participate in the social, civic and cultural lives of their communities.

We have estimated the family living wage for 2013 in Winnipeg at $14.07/hour. The living wage calculation is based on the needs of a two-parent family with young children, but it would also support a mix of family types throughout the life cycle so that young adults are not discouraged from having children and older workers have some extra income as they age. The living wage is a conservative, bare-bones budget without the extras many of us take for granted.

The living wage considers the cost to meet basic needs in a particular community, including: food, clothing, rent for a three-bedroom apartment, transportation, childcare, basic extended healthcare plan, part-time education for 1 parent, a contingency fund for emergencies and some other household expenses. It does NOT include: interest payments, retirement savings, home ownership, savings for children’s education, or costs of caring for a disabled, ill or elderly family member. The method for calculating the living wage is:

Annual Family Expenses = Living Wage + Government Transfers[1] – EI, CPP, Income Tax

Given the role of employers in determining the living wage, there is a call to public and private-sector employers (larger ones in particular) to pay a living wage. This can be achieved through wages or a combination of wages and non-mandatory benefits, such as extended health benefits, profit sharing, subsidised transit passes and childcare. But as the above equation demonstrates, the living wage is not just about employers. Government policies and programs also have a direct impact on families’ quality of life and directly affect the calculation of the living wage. The change in the living wage for single-parent, one child families demonstrates this point.

Although we use the two-parent, two-child living wage as our benchmark, we recognize that single-parent families face greater difficulties. Since our 2009 report, the living wage for single-parent, one-child families in all three cities has decreased, in spite of increases in the cost of living. Of particular note is the change for single-parent families in Brandon: their living wage decreased from $16.99/hour to $10.79/hour, despite a 7.6 per cent increase in expenses. How is this dramatic 36 per cent decrease possible?

Tax-policy changes made the family eligible for the provincial childcare subsidy and a greater National Childcare Basic Supplement, which allowed the living wage to decrease, in turn qualifying the family for the provincial Rent Aid program (adding $230/month to the family purse). It must be emphasized that without these government programs, the 2013 living wage would be higher than it was in 2009.

Unfortunately, the above situation is the exception to the rule. There still remains a considerable gap between the living wage for the two-parent, two-child family and most single-parent, one-child families (as high as $17.04/hour in Winnipeg). We must close this gap so all working families benefit from living wages.

Employers and government need to work towards adopting a family living-wage policy for Manitoba. Minimum wage is a full $3.62/hour BELOW what a two-parent, two-child family needs ($14.07/hour). Seventy-two per cent of Manitoba families are headed by two parents and 63 per cent of them have two children or more. Clearly a family living wage is an idea whose time has come.

By Lynne Fernandez, the Errol Black Chair in Labour Studies at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives - Manitoba Office.

With 25 cent Increase, Manitoba Minimum Wage Falls Far Short of Living Wage

Working Families Manitoba calls on province to do more for the Working Poor

WINNIPEG – Today’s 25 cent/hour increase to the minimum wage is not nearly enough to help Manitoba’s working poor earning a living wage, said Kevin Rebeck, spokesperson for the Working families Manitoba campaign.

“A 25 cent increase in the minimum wage falls far short of what’s needed to bring Manitoba’s working poor to a living wage,” said Rebeck. “Anyone who works full time deserves to earn a living wage - enough to sustain a decent life.”

Manitoba’s minimum wage earners are profiled in Manitoba’s Minimum Wage by the Numbers, a statistical snapshot released today by the Working Families Manitoba campaign. It shows minimum wage earners are not always the stereotypical teenagers and students working for small businesses:
• A majority of minimum wage earners are adults (53%)
• A large percentage of minimum wage earners work full time (43%)
• A majority of minimum wage earners work for big companies with more than 100 employees: (51%)
• 1,200 of Manitoba’s minimum wage earners are single parents
• Women are much more likely to work earn minimum wage than men (6.2% of working women earn minimum wage vs just 4.5% of men).

“When we looked more closely at the numbers we found that women are 38% more likely to earn minimum wage than men are,” said Rebeck. “If we want to close the pay gap between men and women, we need to increase the minimum wage by more than just 25 cents.”

Working Families Manitoba has been calling for a multi-year plan to raise the minimum wage to a living wage. We define a living wage as 60% of the average wage in Manitoba. Currently, a living wage would be $12.12/hour. Today’s minimum wage increase brings Manitoba’s minimum wage to just $10.25/hour.

Working Families Manitoba is a community campaign of the Manitoba Federation of Labour, aiming to raise awareness about issues that matter to working families.

Manitoba’s Minimum Wage by the Numbers

Minimum wage earners don’t live up to stereotypes

• Year in which Manitoba became the first province in Canada to adopt a minimum wage: 1918

• Number of minimum wage earners in Manitoba: 27,700

• Percentage by which women workers are more likely to earn minimum wage in Manitoba: 38

• Percentage of Manitoba minimum wage earners who work for large companies with more than 100 employees: 51
• Percentage of Manitoba minimum wage earners who work for large companies with more than 500 employees: 40

• Percentage of minimum wage earners in Manitoba who are adults: 53
• Percentage of Manitoba minimum wage earners who work full time: 43

• Number of Manitoba single parents who earn minimum wage: 1,200

• Percentage of Manitoba minimum wage earners who don’t live with their parents: 40

Source: Statistics Canada

Download a copy of this news release HERE

CBC: Assaults on Bus Drivers Underreported

CBC Manitoba filed this story about assaults on Winnipeg bus drivers. Unfortunately, drivers are still waiting for the City of Winnipeg to take action to address this problem:

Many attacks on transit drivers not reported: ex-driver

Aug 27, 2012, CBC Manitoba

A former Winnipeg Transit bus driver says drivers are under attack more often than what the city's official figures show, but many of those confrontations go unreported.

Brian Lennox says he was attacked eight times and shot at eight times during the 32 years he drove a Winnipeg Transit bus.

Now, he can't even ride a bus as a passenger.

"I just remember. It brings the memory, the trauma, into sharp focus," said Lennox, who presently suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and no longer works.

The City of Winnipeg says a record 63 assaults on transit drivers were reported in 2011.

According to city officials, more than 400 assaults against transit drivers have been reported in the last 12 years, but Lennox says he thinks it's much higher than that.

"In all my incidents, I had police in attendance no more than a handful of times … 410 incidents reported is probably 4,000 incidents in reality," he said.

Driver accused of assaulting woman
Lennox said he broke down in tears when he heard that a Winnipeg Transit driver may face charges for allegedly assaulting a 23-year-old female passenger on a bus earlier this month.

The 53-year-old male driver allegedly pushed the woman, who police said was intoxicated at the time and falling asleep on the bus with her feet up on a seat.

Lennox said he does not excuse what the driver did, but he understands why.

City officials have said transit operators are expected to provide good customer service, even in challenging situations, and all operators are trained to resolve problems and avoid escalation.

Drivers are advised to call police or the Transit Control Centre when they can't, officials have said.

Refused to call police
But Lennox said during his career, Transit often refused to call police.

Lennox recalled when one of two men who were drinking at the back of his bus confronted him, after he had tried to call for help with his radio.

"He said, 'What's the big idea of calling the cops on us? I said, 'Hey buddy, I wanted to join the party and you wouldn't let me!' And he didn't laugh," he said.

"He unzipped his windbreaker and pulled out what looked to me like a Colt .45, cocked it — I can remember the loud click of it — and stuck it in my eye."

One of the rare times an incident was reported to police, Lennox said, was when two teenagers threw bags of vomit and feces at him.

"It went down my throat. It went up my sinuses. It went into my eyes … I became hysterical," he said.

Transit officials would not say how many calls for help are made by its drivers.

In April, city council's public safety committee asked administrators to come up with recommendations to improve transit driver protection.

Coun. Brian Mayes said Winnipeg Transit is doing the best it can with the money it has, adding that it's up to the city to decide if it will pay to have police officers on buses.

Read the story at CBC Manitoba.

Yet Another Study Shows Minimum Wage Increases Don't Hurt Job Growth

Time and time again we hear business leaders and conservative voices tell us that raising the minimum wage kills jobs. They repeat this claim even though it has not been supported by research.

This month yet another study was released that confirms raising the minimum wage does not hurt job growth. This latest study looked at nearly two decades of data from Massachusetts during which the state minimum wage increased several times. The study also reviews the latest economic studies on this topic and finds they reach similar conclusions:

"Our analysis of job growth in Massachusetts over almost two decades—during which the state minimum wage increased several times—provides evidence that these increases have not impeded job growth. Likewise, the latest economic studies that address this question and that are summarized below also show that minimum wage increases do not have a negative effect on employment."

Read the new study, prepared by the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center HERE.

Worker Killed Near Souris

A 61-year-old man is dead after being caught between a tractor-bucket and a large hay bale this morning.

Emergency workers were called to the farm, located in the RM of Glenwood just northwest of Souris, at about 9 a.m. this morning, where the famer was found pinned against the bale.

Foul play is not suspected

Police say the man's name is not being released.

Read it in the Brandon Sun:

Winnipeg bus drivers want transit cops

Winnipeg bus drivers suffering a record level of assaults want dedicated policing and public shame to combat the thugs.

Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1505 demanded Tuesday that city council empower transit safety inspectors to detain, charge and/or ticket those who assault drivers.

“I’d hate for us to see a dead driver or a dead passenger before we decide that this is finally a good idea,” said Winnipeg Labour Council president David Sauer.

The number of assaults hit 63 in 2011, up from 56 in 2010, and more than double that of 2006. Another 29 assaults were committed between January and May 2012.

Sauer said many cities have some type of enhanced traffic police who randomly board buses.

The union also wants to shame would-be thugs by publishing video and images of their crimes to deter others.


Read the whole story in the Winnipeg Sun

Workplace safety records now available to public

As Labour Minister Jennifer Howard announced at the recent Manitoba Federation of Labour convention, safety records for Manitoba employers are now available to the public.

Manitobans can make a confidential request for detailed information about an employer's safety record, including:

  • the date of the most recent safety inspection;
  • safety improvement orders issued at the last inspection;
  • stop work order sissued at the last inspection;
  • prosecution fines and penalties for safety violations (and whether or not they have been paid);
  • fatalities or serious safety incidents;
  • COR certification;
  • safety and health committee reporting to the province;
  • the WCB injury range and injury rate; and
  • other information abotu compliance with safety rules.

The form to make such a request can be downloaded HERE.

Manitobans can also search an online database about employer safety records with respect to:

  • stop work orders
  • prosecutions for safety violations; or
  • financial penalties for safety violations.