Sunday, April 20, 2014

Long Live the Wage Slave

A friend of mine, someone who I worked beside, used to refer to “us” the employees at that company as “wage slaves”.  What he meant by that, as he explained to me, is that companies generally pay only enough to keep employees. 

Not to keep them happy, just to keep them.

There is a point, he explained, at which people will stop looking for work because they are earning “enough”.  Now we were not getting rich by any means, but we were content.  Most of us were able to pay our bills, buy some luxuries, and set some aside for savings.  Depending on your priorities you could do pretty good working there.

Actually it’s an old idea.  Henry Ford was one of the first, if not the first to use it.

Henry had a problem.  He was selling Model T cars faster than he could make them.  Or rather he could have sold more if he had been able to make them, but there was a problem with production.

Ford Motors at that time was paying the same wages as most other manufacturers at that time.  So it really didn’t matter if you worked for Ford or someone else, you were going to make similar wages.

Now working in an auto plant at that time was dirty and dangerous, people would just quit because they didn’t like it, people would take sick days or whatever because there was no incentive to stay.  Ford realized that he was spending more money training new people than these new people were producing for him (trainees are slow and require a trainer) and absenteeism was slowing production even more.

Ford needed a new idea.  He decided to pay his people an outrageous wage and to shorten the work week and shorten the work day as well.  His competitors thought he’d lost it.  He’ll be out of business in no time they claimed.

What actually happened was the opposite.  Productivity soared, people were willing to work and to work hard to keep their Ford Wage, absenteeism dropped dramatically for the same reason.  Will all the workers showing up and not needing to train new people every day, Ford had hit the mother lode.  His laughing competitors stopped snickering and started to copy him because they were losing their workers as everyone wanted to work for Ford and worse, they were losing sales.

Contrast that with the Temporary Foreign Worker Program (TFW) that we have in place here in Canada.  If Henry Ford could have done this, the world would be a vastly different place.

Businesses apply to the government to allow them to bring in foreign workers because of a supposed lack of available people to work those jobs with the appropriate skill set. 

Arguably there is a need to bring in some out of country workers for jobs that require a special set of skills.  Let’s say the company purchased a new piece of equipment from a foreign supplier and needs someone to come with that piece of equipment to train the staff on how to use and maintain that equipment.  That makes sense.

TFWs in the service industry?  That’s another thing all together.

It’s not just the service industry, there are others that are using the TFW to displace or to avoid hiring people who have or are willing to learn the necessary skills to perform the duties required by these employers.

Why would they do that?  Employee retention is a big issue here.  These companies spend time and money to train people to be valuable to their company and these people may leave if they see a better offer or a job closer to home that needs the same skills as they learned with the original company.

This is where Henry Ford shook up the world.  He was willing to make life better for the workers to retain them.  With TFWs, employers don’t have to.

What happens when you become a TFW?

In some recent news stories these workers are used and housed by the employer.  They make close to the same wage if not the same wage as Canadian workers, but the Canadian worker has the ability to quit.

The TFW is under contract to work for the employer, the TFW cannot simply quit for another job.  If the TFW doesn’t keep the employer happy though, the TFW can be fired back to wherever he or she came from.

How would you like to live under those terms?

If your employer was abusive, let’s say scheduling your 8 hour shift to the morning rush for 4 hours and the supper rush for 4 hours, how long would you work there? 

We have labour standards about safety and hours of work and overtime but they are only available to people who have the ability to complain to the authorities.  If your boss had the power to ship you back to the Philippines or Belize because you were a “bad worker” who went to the Labour Board because you were doing unsafe work, would you report it?

We saw the case with the Royal Bank where current employees were being forced to train their TFW replacements before they were tossed into the street.  We’ve seen the reports of Canadians in the fast food industry having their shifts reduced to accommodate TFWs who have to be given a full week of work each week.  Employers who allegedly won’t even look at Canadian resumes because they would rather hire TFWs, the list goes on.

The employers argue that the TFWs are better workers, and that may be, but fear is a wonderful motivator.  And living in fear is no way to live.

I’m sure that TFWs are good workers even without having to be scared of losing their jobs to perform well.  Many of them see this as a means to emigrate to Canada because they see a better life in Canada than they would see back in their native countries.

I’m equally sure there are good employers who treat their TFWs with the same respect that they would show a Canadian employee.

But the question still remains, why are we importing workers to work at burger chains and coffee chains when we have so many people looking for work? 

Being a wage slave used to be a voluntary position.  If you were treated OK and the pay wasn’t bad, you’d stay with your employer.  The TFW model has flipped this on its head.  These people are locked in to jobs that they may be overqualified for and they have no real ability to change things.  They are virtual slaves to their employers, but they do get a wage for their work.

Displacing the parttimers.

Flipping burgers and pouring coffee used to be the domain of the part time worker, usually students.  They were able to buy themselves the things that they wanted or to save for the future, maybe towards a university education.  These young part timers were often working their first jobs, they were learning the skills to work in full time positions down the road, and they are being cheated out of this part of their education by greedy employers and a government that just doesn’t seem to have a clue.

The solution is simple.  The government could very easily change the policies to prevent abuses of the system, but they seem loathe to do that.  Why?  I don’t know, maybe it’s because employers tend to have more money to donate to political parties than their employees do?

Around the corner from where I live is a variety store.  When I go to that store, the person working the counter is usually one of the owners.  When I get pizza, I see the owners working in the shop as well.  This used to be normal for smaller businesses.  More and more if you look at the ownership signs that often appear at the entrance was you’ll see that the business is owned by XYZ Enterprises or a numbered company.

These are the guys that need the cheap labour that can’t walk away.  They fronted the money for the franchise and that’s all they think they should be required to do.  If you cannot make a go of it by paying a decent wage or without risking high turnover then you’re in the wrong business.  If you’re not willing to stand behind the counter or flip burgers yourself, you’re in the wrong business.

And the government should not be in the business of letting you import slaves, even if you do pay them (the slaves, that is).

Laters, BC

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Pierre Poilievre and the Not So Fair Elections Act

Here is just a taste of irony to start things off.

Following the 2011 General Election there were charges of voter fraud in the riding of Etobicoke Centre.  What happened was that there were a number of votes challenged because some people had voted outside of their own polling station even though their name was stroked off in their home polling station meaning they may have voted twice. Others had been allowed to vote without showing their voters card or any other ID, and some had been “vouched votes” but the paperwork for these votes were incomplete or in some cases nonexistent.

The Harper Party took the matter to the Supreme Court of Canada, but they weren’t the ones trying to get these votes removed.  They were defending these votes.

They argued successfully at the SCC that the removal of these votes which would have turned the seat over to Liberal Borys Wrzesnewskyj that would be an affront to the voters that had supported their winner Ted Opitz.

Fast forward to today and Bill C-23, the Fair Elections Act. 

Suddenly the Harper Party has decided that under no circumstances should these “vouched votes” be accepted.  If you do not have proper ID, you do not vote. 

I’m not sure if this is a flip-flop or just hypocrisy.

Pierre (Skippy) Poilievre says his bill is terrific, that it isn’t based on expert opinions but on common sense.  That’s how he can so easily brush aside any criticism from knowledgeable people like Sheila Fraser, Marc Mayrand, and so forth.  If you’re not one these ivory tower elites and question this bill you are some lefty nut job and not worthy of the time to refute your case.

Well let’s try some common sense.

If voter fraud caused by vouching was a real issue wouldn’t there have been complaints from across the country about this?  Aside from the Etobicoke Centre challenge, I really haven’t heard any complaints about it.

No, but I have heard plenty of complaints from across the country about RoboCalls.  Why aren’t they controlled or banned in this bill? Wouldn’t that make sense?

Skippy’s bill wants to let the winners of the elections pick the officials for the next election.  I sooo certain they would only pick honourable people and that there would be no favouritism shown at all.  That would be like the Chicago Black Hawks getting to pick the refs for the next season because they won the Stanley Cup.  How sensible does that sound?  Think Chicago would make the finals again the next year?

Bill C-23 looks to constrain the powers of the Chief Electoral Officer and Elections Canada.  To hear the Harper Party talk, there is an obvious bias against the Harper Party by these officials.

To tell the truth, the only cases of impropriety that I’ve heard about are with Harper Party candidates.  What does common sense say to that?

The Harper Party says elections at the local level are run by amateurs and mistakes will occur, Elections Canada is chasing only their party for these minor offences.  Well, maybe, but it’s more likely that these minor offences were dealt with by the other offenders when they arose.  Common senses says that mistakes would likely happen about the same amount of time for all the parties, but only one party makes it a habit of not correcting these errors promptly.  Or maybe there is only one party that broke the rules?

Skippy complains that Marc Mayrand only wants more power and more money to run Elections Canada.  Well it does take years to get anything done through Elections Canada when questions of impropriety arise.  Shouldn’t EC be able to get a warrant to compel witnesses to speak?  Shouldn’t EC have the people available to investigate allegations and inform the public of these charges and whether they find enough merit in these cases to proceed with a full investigation?

Skippy, if you have issues with EC having the power to actually investigate and take action then maybe YOU have something to hide?

No, Common Sense wants elections determined on who present the best case on why Me and My Party have the best options for Canada, not who can raise the most money.

Common Sense wants a neutral party to oversee elections and to challenge and punish rule breakers.

Common Sense wants the same type of rules that govern income tax to cover elections.  If you show campaign expenses, those expenses need to be accompanied by receipts to show how that money was spent.  We refund a portion of those expenses, we want accountability.

And Common Sense wants anyone who is a Canadian Citizen and who is of legal age to vote to be able to vote. 

We have come a long way from when an MP was selected by a show of hands by men who held property.  It took a long time before we allowed women to vote and an even longer time before we allowed the First Nations to vote.  These were steps in the right direction.

When I first voted, I simply walked into the polling station, told them who I was and they handed me a ballot.  We didn’t have widespread voter fraud then, we don’t have it now.  But now I need to provide ID or at least have someone who has valid ID vouch for me.  The same routine you’d probably have to do if you take your 18 year old to vote if they don’t have a drivers licence.

For over 100 years we could vote with no ID required.  If you are truly worried about voter fraud Skippy, why not put in a rule where I need to stick my finger in the inkwell when my ballot goes into the box?  I don’t have an issue with this, it would be a source of pride to show that I have voted.

But I get to choose the finger.

Cheers! BC

In the mean time, since this flawed bill is going to be rushed through the pipes faster than any bill in the history of Canada, if you are concerned that you don’t have enough ID to vote, march your tuchas down to the nearest Provincial (or Territorial) Government office and get your Provincial/Territorial ID.  In Ontario it will cost you $35.00 and is good for 5 years, but maybe paying $35.00 will give you the initiative to get your butt out to vote?

Laters, BC