Austerity and


Cuts to employment insurance

The Harper government has recently considerably reduced employment insurance (EI) benefits, and changed the rules in order to force people searching for a job to accept a lower salary than what they were previously paid or risk losing their EI. The eligibility criteria have changed, making the program less accessible; on top of all this, turning down a job offer will now cause benefits to be cut, even if the refusal is due to leaving the region or becoming pregnant.

This obligation to work has a dragging effect: salaries drop, and working conditions deteriorate. These measures do not save people from poverty: they trap them in it, all this to please large corporations.

What we want to do is make sure that the McDonald’s of the world aren’t having to bring in temporary foreign workers to do jobs that Canadians who are on EI have the skills to do
Diane Finley, Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development (CPC)

Fragile retirements

Austerity is often justified by claiming that an ageing population will increase public spending, and that we must be able to absorb these extra costs. However, the State doesn’t seem too concerned by the well-being of future retirees.

In fact, in their latest federal budget, the conservatives have raised the age of retirement from 65 to 67 years, a measure which will come into effect in 2023. Additionally, they systematically favour private retirement funds (such as RRSPs) where only the worker contributes (and not the employer), and which profits the financial sector that reinvests these funds. Finally, we must remember that in accordance with the user-fee logic, retirees may well have to pay for access to public services (notably healthcare) from their own pockets.

Work-related precarity is stronger for women

70% of part-time jobs are occupied by women. These jobs are often less stable, less glorified and more informal than those occupied by men, making women much more vulnerable to measures attacking labour such as the Harper government’s employment insurance reforms. They also represent the majority of public service employees, which are the first to be affected by these cuts.

Union busting

In Canada, workers in a unionised workplace pay a small amount from their salary to finance their union, which defends their work conditions and their salaries.

However, inspired by laws in 24 American states, the Harper government toys with the idea of implementing right-to-work legislation, which would put an end to automatic dues collection and allow workers to benefit from the advantages negotiated by their union without having to contribute to its funding.

Obviously, these laws cause a drastic decline in union funding, with tangible effects: in American states with right-to-work legislation, the number of lethal work-related accidents is 53% higher and the average salary is lower. The problem has reached a point where even the American president Barack Obama openly criticises these laws.

You know, these so-called right-to-work laws have nothing to do with the economy, but have a lot to do with politics. What they’re really about is giving you the right to work for less money.
Barack Obama