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Support laid off transit workers in BC

Zain ul Haq

April 28, 2020

Over 1500 workers, including 1200 transit operators, have now been laid off by Translink as the public’s use of the service declines drastically. But don’t worry, we’re told, there are still cuts in pay for executives.

This. Is. Ridiculous.

The Globe and Mail reports that the use of these services by the public has declined by 83%, down to roughly 75,000, resulting in the loss of $70 million in April and likely to get worse. Translink may be owned by the provincial government, but the provincial government does not have any control over how the enterprise works. The service collects its revenue through property taxes, taxes on gasoline and through fares, of which there are almost none now. All the main sources of Translink’s funding have sharply declined.

Turns out, Translink is not governed by municipal governments and therefore cannot be backed up by the city’s reserves. Translink functions like a capitalist enterprise, with boards of directors and a CEO. Only last year in 2019, the Vancouver Sun reported that these executives decided to give themselves an increase in pay, with the 6 executives previously earning a combined total of 1.7 million in 2018. After the raise, the CEO’s salary had been bumped up to $406,634-$517,443, when previously it was $325,092-$406,634, an increase of 25%. The executives saw a raise in income by 11%-18%. Even though in the years leading up to this, workers had seen an increase in wages by 18% (since they are unionized), the pay disparity between the workers and the top executives is appalling and above all: undemocratic.

The following must not come as a surprise: legally, Translink simply cannot lay off 1500 workers arbitrarily. As a result, they now have a legal challenge on their hands. Unifor has announced, as reported by global news, that this is a violation of the labour relations code. According to the labour relations code, workers are to be given a 60 days’ notice before any lay off of this kind. Unifor is now calling for these workers to either be re hired or be paid during those 60 days.

The case for a true industrial democracy

Here’s a potential solution: give total ownership to the railway workers and give them managerial control over the transit system. The solution to deal with the crisis cannot be small cuts in pay for executives and the destruction of the livelihood of thousands of workers; doesn’t sound like a generous trade off. What must happen is that the executives should be put out of a job, since they aren’t that many and then the workers should be given permanent ownership and managerial control. You will now have far less people losing their livelihood, since it’s fair to say that the executives have enough money saved up to weather the storm and workers remain on their paychecks. Furthermore, if the executives are to be put out of work, the chunks of the revenue that would otherwise be directed towards the income of the executives, the distribution of this saved revenue can then be democratically decided by the workers. 

Now, since we are in the midst of a pandemic, it would be good if essential workers like railway and transit workers, get a rest and appreciation for being in the frontlines. So, if they are to be sent home, for whatever reason, the bosses have absolutely no right to lay them off without pay. We, as a society, pay lip service to the work being done by transit workers and other essential workers and yet, the financial realities of their jobs are not reflective of this praise. If transit workers are essential, this should reflect in the way in which they are compensated. We must ask ourselves, whether in a true democracy we would let over a thousand workers be laid off without pay. This again, shows that we do not live in a true democracy for if we did, democracy would begin in the arena that people are dependent on for their livelihood; workers have no option but to work under a corporate dictatorship. This is what socialists and anti-capitalists are fighting for and must continue to fight for, all over the world, now more than ever.

    Azpiri, J. (2020, April 23). Union launches legal challenge to TransLink layoffs amid COVID-19 crisis. Retrieved from Global News :
    Saltman, J. (2019, August 7). Higher pay ranges introduced for translink executives . Retrieved from Vancouver Sun :
    Union launched legal challange against Translink layoffs . (2020, April 23). Retrieved from CBC:


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