THE DUEL: 'Fairness' call a tad excessive 0
In The Duel, 24 hours columnists David Eby and Kathryn Marshall battle over the issues of the day. Who's the winner this week? Fire us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
THIS WEEK'S TOPIC - The high price of union wages: Legitimate earnings by hard-working union employees or unsustainable wages in hard times?
Last week, Kathryn and I discussed health care for refugees in Canada, and whether or not families fleeing war, famine and persecution should receive government health care that includes life saving prescription drugs. I said yes. Kathryn argued that because low-wage workers in Canada don't get those medications as part of their health plans, neither should refugees.
This week, Kathryn and I are discussing how much unionized workers earn. According to Kathryn, they earn 7.7% more than non-unionized workers, and often have pensions. I say, good for them for organizing and getting what they can. Kathryn says that because many people in Canada work for low wages without benefits, everyone should.
It seems Kathryn won't rest in her demands for equality until we're all minimum wage workers with no benefits. Pensions, Pharmacare and living wages aren't bad things, Kathryn, they're good things.
Here's how public sector workers appear to be paid too much now. Public sector jobs have stayed consistent in pay and benefits. But private sector jobs have changed radically, becoming lower paid with fewer benefits and less job security than ever.
Canada has signed free trade agreements with countries that have no employment or environmental standards. Workers here can't possibly compete with factories that pay pennies an hour to children and dump their waste into the nearest river. As a result, Canada's good manufacturing jobs have moved overseas.
This trend will only change if we insist that free trade with Canada comes only for countries that meet minimum labour and environmental standards.
We are also turning Canada into the world's open pit mine and tree farm, not adding value to our raw logs and minerals before we ship them overseas. Kathryn says she wants to "create wealth" to benefit Canadians while simultaneously advocating for shipping raw, unprocessed, bitumen from the tar sands to China.
Our natural resources could be creating good jobs with benefits here, instead of substandard jobs overseas.
If we don't act, Kathryn will get her wish. Public workers still clinging to what used to be widely available benefits will lose them. Tax revenues will decrease, and we'll continue slowly losing cherished, but pricey, Canadian institutions, such as a strong public education system, dignified retirement, a clean environment, and universal public health care. Public and private workers alike will equally have the right to pay for what they can no longer afford. I suppose it's fair, but not the kind of fairness most of us have in mind.