Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Labour dissent 'was not planned'

Saskatchewan Federation of Labour (SFL) Treasurer, Marvin Meickel and Recording Secretary, Wanda Bartlett recently submitted an Op Ed piece to the Regina Leader-Post regarding the appearance of Sask. Party Labour Minister, Rob Norris at the SFL's 2008 Annual Convention last week in Regina.

The Op Ed piece is reproduced below, and can be viewed at the Leader-Post online by clicking here....

Labour dissent 'was not planned'

Marvin Meickel and Wanda Bartlett
Special to The Leader-Post

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Following Minister of Labour Rob Norris's speech to the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour's (SFL) Convention, it was widely reported in print, television and radio that the icy reception the minister received was in fact spontaneous. Reporters dutifully asked SFL President Hubich if he had planned the outburst and he responded "no, on the contrary".

Yet a couple of mainstream reporters, despite having not even attended the event, insisted on reporting the opposite. Leader-Post columnist Murray Mandryk goes so far as to say "Certainly, there's no doubt -- despite SFL President Larry Hubich's disingenuous assertion to the contrary -- that the supposedly spontaneous demonstration . . . was orchestrated to maximize television coverage". In the span of just three paragraphs on Oct. 25, he states four times that the actions of delegates were orchestrated.

There is simply no basis in fact for such statements and to report otherwise is to distort the events of that day. Furthermore, disparaging comments about our president, our leadership and our members is very disappointing.

Let's set the record straight. The demonstration against Norris was neither orchestrated by president Hubich, nor by the SFL executive council.

Indeed, when president Hubich indicated he would call delegates to order, the minister turned down his offer.

The truth is that the SFL executive council, composed of 24 vice-presidents and eight labour council representatives, discussed in advance the minister's upcoming visit. We decided that the most fruitful approach would be to conduct ourselves respectfully and to attempt to get answers to some very important questions from the minister.

Many of those same labour leaders then lined up at microphones following the minister's speech and proceeded to ask carefully crafted questions.

Let's be clear; the Brad Wall government has refused to consult with the working people of this province so an opportunity to meet a minister and ask questions is a rare occurrence.

The fact that the delegates on the floor chose to express their views in such a united and strong manner should signal to everyone that those 550 rank-and-file workers are fed up with being treated with disdain and disrespect by their own government. And we should all be humbled by the fact that they felt strongly enough to go against the recommendations of their own leadership as to how they should receive the minister. It is called dissent.

That workers stood up for themselves in such a manner is certainly newsworthy, but surely the media is also obligated to report on the questions asked of the minister and his evasive answers?

When asked repeatedly whether or not the minister had plans to amend any of the several pieces of labour legislation in the province, he stated they are all "under review" and gave reference to lowering the minimum working age.

When asked whether or not labour would be consulted on any potential changes to labour laws, the minister refused to answer.

Workers have been experiencing this kind of dismissive treatment ever since the Saskatchewan Party came to office. The gutting of labour laws and the refusal to dialogue with trade unions about future changes is incredibly frustrating. It should be noted that it wasn't until the minister began to sing the praises of Bills 5 and 6 that delegates got up from their seats.

Governments have an obligation to consult with individuals and groups when they intend to bring in legislation that will affect them. To refuse to do so in a meaningful way is anti-democratic. And to continue to cater to business interests and to dismiss workers' expertise and concerns is insulting.

We also note that several urgent issues of interest to the people of Saskatchewan were discussed and debated during the three-and-a-half day convention. Just some of these issues include a campaign to remove asbestos from workplaces and homes; the dangers involved in the expansion of oil extraction in the tar sands; the exploitation and abuse of rapidly increasing numbers of temporary foreign workers; and the lack of safe staffing levels in our health-care system.

As workers and as a labour movement, we will continue to take very seriously our obligation to raise these issues in workplaces, in public forums, and with our politicians.

- Meickel is the SFL treasurer and president of CUPE Local 7. Bartlett is the SFL recording secretary and president of the Weyburn and District Labour Council.

© The Leader-Post (Regina) 2008

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