Friday, March 23, 2012

Public policy according to PCL

The head of PCL Construction (Paul Douglas) is making waves about altering the Alberta Labour Relations Code and other public policy. He suggests:

1. More training for workers nation wide.

2. Policies that encourage unemployed workers in other parts of the country to move to Alberta.

3. Changes to the labour code to allow “alternative unions” to operate in Alberta.

This all sounds good—until you think about it for a minute. What Douglas is basically suggesting is:

1. The taxpayers should pay more to train workers so companies don’t have to bear this cost. Why should taxpayer subsidize profitable corporations? And who benefits from lower training costs? Oh wait, PCL does.

2. The government should economically pressures families to uproot and come to Alberta to loosen up the labour market and, thereby, lessen workers’ ability to ask for higher wages or demand safer working conditions. Why should families be disrupted to enrich shareholders? And who benefits from lower wages? Oh wait, PCL does.

3. Change labour laws to allow unions such as the Christian Labour Association of Canada (which is widely regarded as “employer friendly”) to displace traditional trade unions. Why should unions chosen by workers be pushed aside in favour of those which employers prefer to deal with? And who benefits from weaker unions? Oh wait, PCL does.

In effect, Douglas’ (self-interested) prescription is not really about solving a labour shortage, but rather about trying to convince governments to help companies be maximally profitable, regardless of how it affects workers (lower wages, no safety net) or taxpayers (paying corporate training costs).

In this context, perhaps a labour shortage is a small price to pay for just and equitable social policy?

-- Bob Barnetson

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