Labouring over labour strife 

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So many labour issues; so little space.

Predictably, it's the day after Labour Day, also known as the First Day of School... but not this year. Having taken the summer off, both the teachers' union and the government have failed to reach an agreement to end the strike/lockout. No surprise. Both pots are calling both kettles black. No surprise. There's no clear path to agreement. No surprise.

The government doesn't want to work this out. They want to bust the BCTF. The union, for its part, are acting as though they want to get busted. It's becoming a symbiotic relationship and the chances of it ending well are approaching zero.

Interestingly, the third party in this danse macabre isn't even at the table... when there's a table to be at. The third party is the courts. The B.C. Court of Appeal has been biding its time, waiting until its fall term, to hear and decide the province's appeal of the lower court's decision slapping the province's wrist for not living up to its requirements on the class size and composition rules.

More interesting still, those rules were largely motivated by previous court decisions mandating full integration of special needs kids into mainstream classrooms. That requirement led, of course, to chaos: more need for assistants and attendants, less cohesive classroom environments, much higher costs of 'education'.

But the courts aren't a party to the contract negotiations and they aren't hurrying things along. They too like summers off.

I'm not sure what the solution is but I believe there's a better mechanism for running this con game in the future. Suppose, just suppose, both sides operated under legislation requiring them to meet and negotiate prior to contracts expiring. Suppose, just suppose, wherever those negotiations stood, say, two weeks prior to the contract expiring, both sides had to present their final offer to an arbitrator. Suppose, just suppose, that arbitrator could only choose one of those offers as the final terms of the contract.

It's called final offer arbitration. It is both elegant and establishes a framework for both sides to be a little more reasonable. If either side sticks to a patently outrageous position, they'll likely lose in the winner-take-all decision. Both sides become highly motivated to move toward an agreement, knowing one or the other position will prevail on a set deadline.

Naturally, like proportional representation, it'll never see the light of day. The government has too much power to lose agreeing to such a reasonable structure. They can't, for example, appeal a perfectly reasonable arbitration decision like they're appealing a perfectly reasonable lower court ruling. They can't strongarm the union, don't have any reason to legislate people back to work and are required to be, well, reasonable. Talk about a pipe dream.

And so, this drama will play on. The province knows time is on their side. They're saving money not paying striking/locked out teachers. The populace is getting more and more pissed off at the BCTF and teachers. Teachers are getting more and more desperate as weeks drag on with no paycheque. And if the appellate court rules against the province, they can appeal further and continue their delay and bully tactics.

But that's not the most interesting labour kafuffle happening right now. Far more interesting — unless you're scrambling to figure out what to do with your kid(s) who isn't in school — is the Chicken Little performance of the Whistler Chamber of Commerce over the Temporary Foreign Worker program.

"The sky is falling. The sky is falling," or so says a piece in the Vancouver Sun, based on a letter from the Chamber to Jason Kenney, Employment Minister, forwarded to the Sun.

How is the sky falling, you ask? "... deep-pocketed foreigners are telling the Whistler Blackcomb Ski Resort that they'll switch to resorts in the U.S. and Japan due to the lack of ski instructors in Whistler who can work in languages like Cantonese, Russian and Spanish."

OK, let's suppose that's the case. Since these deep-pocketed foreigners are telling the "resort" they aren't coming and the "resort" is telling the Chamber, how about telling the rest of us? How many deep-pocketed foreigners have said they'll switch resorts? Two? Ten? One hundred? How are bookings running from deep-pocketed foreigners compared to this time last year? Just how big is this piece of sky falling on us?

This chunk of sky is also unexpected since, according to federal employment minister Jason Kenney's office, ski resorts are still able to hire foreign-speaking instructors under the International Experience Canada program. So what say the parties involved shed a little light on this claim?

The Chamber also says more than one-third of their members hire more than 30 per cent of their workforce through the TFW program. In 2013, the federal government issued 318 permits under the program to Whistler businesses. I'm having some trouble making the math work on this one so I'd respectfully request some hard figures to make this claim a bit more believable, er, transparent.

Which, of course, doesn't answer the question: To what lengths are local businesses going to hire Canadians for these jobs. After all, while Tiny Town enjoys a mere two per cent unemployment rate, the region has a 6.7 per cent unemployment rate.

Ah, but local businesses are bending over backwards to attract these unemployed. According to the Chamber, businesses are offering "... training programs, a shuttle bus that brings in workers to and from the nearby Mount Currie Indian Band, and wages that are either on par or above market rates for equivalent positions in larger markets like Vancouver."

Too bad we couldn't manage the shuttle between here and Squamish. Too bad those wages that might look so good in Vancouver seem a bit lacking in Whistler where, oh, pretty much everything costs more. Too bad we can't train dumb Canadians to cook Mexican food or make sushi.

The Chamber's position seems — what's the word I'm looking for? — oh yeah, self-serving. It also seems maybe just a bit hyperbolic, although I'll be happy to come around if they'll be kind enough to share this mountain of data they've built their position on.

It also does a disservice to the town. It once again casts Whistler in the light of spoiled, rich, whiny and only interested in pandering to the deep-pocketed. One needs only read the comments in the Sun piece to see how sympathetic residents in the rest of the province and country are to our plight. Having all the earmarks of a two-year-old temper tantrum, frankly I think someone's got some 'splain' to do and just maybe an apology to make to the rest of the town.

And just for the record, "... your Aussie ski instructor, your Kiwi pouring the drinks..." are not the kind of temporary foreign workers the moratorium on TWFs touches, unless Canada left the Commonwealth while I wasn't paying attention.

Good grief!


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