Monday, June 18, 2012

TFWs used as scabs at seniors care centre?

About 100 LPNs and nursing aids represented by the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees have been striking the Hardisty Care Centre (a privately-operated, 180-bed senior centre) since May 20th.

Collective bargaining has been going on since November 2011, with a mediator and dispute resolution board (DIB) both recommending the employer pay industry-standard wages (currently the employer is paying about 30 percent less than workers in publically operated seniors facilities make). The employer has declined to do so.

This has led some to speculate that the employer is using the first round of collective bargaining to basically refight the certification battle AUPE won. Alberta currently does not have first-contract arbitration, thus employers sometimes stall signing a first agreement in hopes of breaking the union’s support.

AUPE has been very public about the strike, suggesting that the employer (Park Place) is using tax dollars intended to pay for staff to enhance its profit margins. According to AUPE president Guy Smith:
“The bottom line for all of them is that Park Place Seniors is funded by Alberta taxpayers to pay industry rates for the medical staff here Alberta taxpayers should be concerned that money that’s supposed to be paying front-line staff is going into the profit margins of Park Place.” 
This is quite an interesting angle of attack, trying to draw supporters of public health care (and fair play in general) into supporting the strike. 

AUPE upped the ante last week, filing a complaint that the employer was illegally using temporary foreign workers (TFWs) as scabs. Using TFWs is prohibited when 
“the specific work that the foreign national intends to perform is likely to adversely affect the settlement of any labour dispute in progress or the employment of any person involved in the dispute.”
The purpose of this restriction is to prevent TFWs (whose residence in the country effectively depends upon their employers good will) from being coerced into crossing a picket line on the orders of their employer.  The employer has carefully danced around this complaint, in part because getting busted for violating the TFWs rules might well endanger the employer’s ability to receive permission to hire additional TFWs in the future.

There appear to be a number of disputes brewing in seniors care. AUPE members are also striking Revera Riverbend Retirement Residence (again wages are the issue) and employees at Devonshire Care Centre (run by the same company the owns Hardisty) held information pickets about their bargaining. In Calgary, workers at Monterey Place Assisted Living will soon take a strike vote while workers at Newport Harbour Care Centre (again, owned by Park Place) are starting collective bargaining.

This pattern may indicate a concerted effort by AUPE to whipsaw employers at private-sector seniors lodges into paying wages on par with public-sector employers.

-- Bob Barnetson

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