Well, Happy Saint Paddy’s Day to all!

Many moons ago I read a book entitled How the Irish Saved Civilization and it’s about how after the Roman Empire completely collapsed about 1500 years ago, it was the monks and monasteries that were located in Ireland that kept records and books and accounts about the ways and progress of the Romans throughout Europe. So by the time Europe had fallen into the Dark Ages within a couple of hundred years after the Roman collapse, secrets kept in Ireland’s safest places would form the basis of the Renaissance in Europe that really took hold toward the end of the 14th Century.

We think of Dark Ages as something of the past, as something that could never happen to society today. I beg to differ. Dark Ages start quite imperceptibly. The Conservative Government’s policies of the past half-dozen years are part of a corporate agenda that is bent on supplanting the public interest with the corporate interest, which I believe would inevitably lead to at least a much darker age than we know now. For example, today, if a public policy is to be created and implemented, it now seems that increasingly, the “rubber stamp” test is “will this help or hinder corporate economic development?” If the answer is that the policy will help corporations, then it gets the rubber stamp, no “ifs”, “ands” or “buts” about it. Previously, under more enlightened times, it used to be that the test was “will this policy help or hinder the public interest…”

Times change, and Jane Jacobs, in her book Dark Age Ahead warned of the signs that a society could be falling back into a dark age. When public services, services to the people, to the community, are withdrawn, the people are that much more impoverished, or made poorer, by no longer having that service. The fundamental debate of course, springs from the notion that taxation is too high. The pundits who preach the corporate agenda state that individuals who pay the most in taxes (mainly the wealthy and well-off), believe that the poorer members of society who pay much less in taxes, should not be “entitled” to healthy doses of public services. They believe as well that the more services you cut, the lower they will pay in taxes.

One way of cutting public services is to reduce the number of public service employees. There are many ways to accomplish this. One insidious way of getting rid of “public servants” is to make their working lives a living hell, so that given half a chance, many would be more than willing to leave the public service. Cutting compensation and benefits is an obvious way to start. One of the most important provisions public service employees have access to under their negotiated collective contracts (collective agreement, or CA) is, of course, sick leave. 

Over the last more than 30 years that I have been in and out of public service, I remember federal government CAs being negotiated. Invariably, since the days of “wage and price controls”, it seems that every round of bargaining presented by the employer was to suppress wage increase demands “in order to help the government “control costs” or “reduce the deficit.” Therefore, invariably, federal public service employees would see “non-monetary” improvements to their CAs, through improved benefits such as sick leave. 

Sick leave is a “non-monetary” improvement (often referred to as an “insurance”) in that you don’t receive any money in lieu of sick leave. You can accumulate it, and the more you don’t use, the more you accumulate, and the “insurance” factor is that, if you get sick, you have accumulated enough time to get well! Normally, in the time it takes to “get well”, the rest of the team back at work pick up the “slack.” Of course, if the sick leave is long term, and the employee goes on long term sick leave, management must take measures to ensure that service levels are maintained. But that is what management gets paid for, to take charge of the problems that arise in the delivery of public services.

Sick leave is a sacred piece of public service employees’ compensation and benefits. It is made all the more sacred when significant portions of the sick leave provisions represent wage increases foregone in past rounds of bargaining in the name of helping Her Majesty’s Government “balance the books.” 

So when the Harper Government, IF the Harper Government, considers reducing or taking away sick leave benefits from federal public service employees, it should be no wonder that most of us will put our heads down, and charge like bulls into whomever will be the first to fire that shot across the bow! And if that first shot is taken by the Harper Government, perhaps that is what it will take to awaken a dragon best left alone!

Dark Ages start almost without notice, if you let them.

In total solidarity,

Larry Rousseau