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Aliant Loses $13 Million

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Issue: 21 Section: Labour Geography: Canada Topics: labour

August 25, 2004

Aliant Loses $13 Million

Aliant Loses $13 Million on Strike, refuses to negotiate

by Dru Oja Jay

aliant.jpg
Around 4,500 Aliant workers and supporters march in downtown Halifax.

aliant3.jpg photos: Dru Oja Jay

Aliant Loses $13 Million on Strike, refuses to negotiate

In a conference call with business analysts, Aliant CEO Jay Forbes said that the company had lost $13 million as a result of the ongoing strike by 4,300 employees. Aliant's first-quarter earnings were $50.1 million, compared to $70.6 million in 2003.

The strike, which began April 23rd, has centred on the fight for improvements to the pension plan. Some workers may retire after 30 years with a pension of $12,000 per year, which workers say is inadequate. Another "huge issue," according to union officials, is Aliant's attempt to claw back protections against contracting out work that is currently done by full-time, unionized employees.

Though provincial and federal politicians have not taken a stand regarding the strike, Aliant is under increased pressure to end the strike. Aliant's managers have been working long hours to fill the roles of the missing workers. Installations have been backed up for weeks, and many customers are complaining of technical difficulties, and a lack of customer service.

Aliant is under pressure from shareholders to consistently grow profits. Formed as a result of a merger of five provincial telephone companies, Aliant is the major provider of telecommunications in Atlantic Canada. The company is effectively controlled, in turn, by Bell Canada, which owns a 54% stake in Aliant. Canada's largest telco, Bell Canada, also owns a majority stake in Bell Globemedia, which includes CTV and the Globe and Mail.

Other unions and telecommunications workers have recognized the value of Aliant as a precedent, and have raised millions of dollars to support the striking workers.

The union representing Bell Canada's technicians' union recently accepted an updated offer from the company. A previous offer in July had been rejected by 62 per cent of the membership.

Quebec Unions Cancel Plans for One-Day General Strike

After threatening a one-day walkout in protest of wage freezes, tax cuts, and privatization, Quebec's major unions made it clear that the strike would not go on as planned. Many unions voted in favour of the strike.

Some observers say that the decision to cancel the strike indicates divergent goals between the union leadership and the grassroots. Tens of thousands of union members have protested in outrage at Liberal legislation that eliminated union positions, raised prices for day care services, and cut taxes for corporations and the wealthy. Leaders, by contrast, have been cautious in their criticisms of Charest's Liberals, claiming that the government has also implemented some good policies.

In February, Quebec Federation of Labour president Henri Massé has said that he is not "calling for the defeat of the government. It is there for four years. It is doing its job. If it adopts damaging policies, we will always criticize it."

"When we speak of some correct government measures, people are still outraged and don't want to listen," Massé commented more recently.

National Strike at Parks Canada

On August 13, one day after talks broke down, 4,800 Parks Canada employees began a nationwide strike. The Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), which is representing the workers, is calling for a 13 per cent increase in wages over three years. The Government's highest offer has been four per cent. Other outstanding issues include working conditions and workplace safety.

More than 135,000 workers represented by PSAC are currently in negotiations, and may join the strike in the coming weeks if an agreement is not reached.

Parks Canada employees have not been charging entry fees or providing services at parks across the country, resulting in free entry and hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost revenue.

Newfoundland Home Care Workers on Strike

Around 60 home care workers in Corner Brook, Nfld., have been on strike since August 2. Employed by the Victoria Order of Nurses, they are demanding improved wages, vacation time and sick leave benefits.

Health Care Workers on Strike in York Region

Ninety-two health care workers at the Community Care Access Centre in the York Region in Newmarket, Ontario have been on strike since August 6. The striking workers have rejected wage concessions demanded by their employer.

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The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.

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