Entitlement among public service workers is costly to taxpayers

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My perspective, Hattie Dyck

There’s a lot being written about entitlement these days, a practice that’s costing taxpayers mega bucks when it rears it’s ugly head in the public service and the political arena, along with taking a heavy toll on private business.

I recently read that Halifax Regional Municipality Councillor Gloria McCluskey, Dartmouth, when writing about the high cost of sick leave, put the blame squarely on unions. This I thoroughly disagree with, as there is a culture of entitlement in all facets of society including politicians of all political stripes. The senators are not unionized and yet entitlement seems to be the order of the day with this well-heeled group of political appointees. I expect there are still some feelings of entitlement in provincial and municipal politics here in Nova Scotia, and that taxpayers have not forgotten the recent misuse by Nova Scotia politicians who overbilled on their expense claims.

The problem with entitlement is not new. In fact Cicero, the Roman philosopher, lawyer and political theorist who lived in 55 BC wrote the following: “The budget should be balanced, the treasury should be refilled, public debt should be reduced, the arrogance of officialdom should be tempered and controlled, and the assistance to foreign lands should be curtailed lest Rome will become bankrupt. People must again learn to work instead of living on public assistance.” That message should apply today to ensure that Canada continues to thrive.

There’s no doubt some unions play a part in the entitlement scenario. Take a look at the recent spat between the Nova Scotia Government Employees Union (NSGEU) and the provincial government. If there’s one place there shouldn’t be entitlement it’s in the health care system, which is becoming more difficult to sustain each year. Yet, NSGEU allowed, and even urged the nurses to participate in a wildcat strike which caused a huge disruption in service at the Halifax hospitals, and even here in Truro where some patients were sent home to make way for the anticipated overflow of patients from Halifax.

I’m glad that Premier Stephen McNeil had the courage to legislate them back to work, which forces them to negotiate rather than demand what they believe they’re entitled to. NSGEU president Joan Jessome did her own union, and in fact all unions, a disservice in the way she handled that situation. She should take a lesson from Truro’s Janet Hazelton who successfully led the Nova Scotia Nurses Union to an agreement without even a threat of a strike. If Jessome had tempered her wishes there would have been no need for the McNeil government’s legislation.

Getting a handle on the misuse of sick time will not be easy, nor will be any drive to increase productivity. Yet, to believe that doing away with unions is the answer is pure fallacy as corporate Canada can be ruthless and cruel and there is definitely a need for protection of the Canadian workforce.

A recent case in point is in Saskatchewan where two waitresses lost their jobs at a restaurant and were replaced by temporary foreign workers. Brother’s restaurant in Weyburn, let the whole staff go including 58-year-old Sandy Nelson, a 28-year employee, along with Shaunna Jennison-Yung who had worked there for 14 years. Some were hired back but not Nelson and Yung, as both of their jobs were taken by foreign workers. Yet the restaurant owners say they haven’t broken any rules. Labour Minister Jason Kenney is putting out platitudes and pretending the government will do the right thing and stop this abuse. I wouldn’t bet the family farm that it will change until the public gets up in arms when our own economy becomes so bad we won’t stand for it any more.

This practice isn’t new and it happens here as it does all across Canada. I well remember in February of 2011 when some local students had their hours cut to the point it was useless for them to work at McDonalds, and a group of temporary foreign workers were brought in to replace them. Then the word on the street was that the young people were lazy and didn’t want the jobs, which was a blatant lie.

My column in this newspaper on Feb. 12 of that year raised an alarm about the misuse of the temporary foreign workers program but no one seemed to care. Not one local politician responded to it. I have to ask why not? Do they not care about jobs for our youth? If not they can’t complain about them going west for work and allowing Truro to stay a retirement community. My column did raise the ire of then president of the Truro and District Chamber of Commerce Tim Tucker, who wrote me that the business community in Truro was not happy with my comments and many of our young people were only working to pay for their cell phone contracts and the like. If business wants to thrive in this area it might be well for the chamber to advocate for people who live here to make and have enough money to buy their products.  

Just last month, a friend of mine was laid off from a local bank after more than 30 years on the job. I wonder if it’s a co-incidence I see two young men in there now, or is it a case where the bank can pay the young ones much less than the senior employees. Throw the older workers to the wind and hope they’ll blow away, out of sight and out of mind. That’s the cruel side of corporate Canada.

No one should blame the foreign workers for taking Canadian jobs. They’re just trying to make a living and feed their families. The blame rests on the government, on our politicians and the business community, the groups that allow what is a good and needed system to be abused.

I believe workers need to produce and the misuse of sick leave needs to be stopped. Maybe doctors should be less willing to put people off on sick leave. We all know those who can’t work in the workplace but can do other things that are equally strenuous. Maybe forcing those off on sick leave to stay in Canada rather than spending the winter in a warmer climate, might not be a bad idea.

Yes, there is a need for better productivity but there is also a need for unions. There is a need for the temporary foreign workers program to be monitored and operated without abuse.

Let’s never be fooled into believing we live in a world that’s fair to ordinary workers. We don’t, and there’s a need for unions in 2014, as there was many years ago when Father Jimmy Tompkins and Father Moses Coady rallied the Canso fishermen and began the co-op movement to get the workers a decent wage for a decent day’s work.

 

Hattie Dyck is a longtime newspaper columnist and author of historical books of folklore. She believes that folklore is both fun and valuable as it tells great stories of the lives of ordinary people.

 

Organizations: Nova Scotia Government Employees Union, Nova Scotia Nurses Union, Truro and District Chamber of Commerce Tim Tucker

Geographic location: Canada, Truro, Nova Scotia Dartmouth Halifax Rome Saskatchewan Weyburn Canso

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