Moving target of labour rights

It’s not like Alberta didn’t have enough labour woes to deal with already.

For the past month massive oil and gas companies — Suncor Nexen Shell — have been shedding a job for every few pennies shaved off the global oil price; thousands of contractors have been loosed into the already hyper-competitive job market. Both capital and operating spending is sharply declining.

Then on January 15 Target Canada added to the growing chaos with the announcement that 133 stores across Canada will close. Over 17000 positions will be cut with close to 2000 in Alberta. Six stores in the Calgary area are scheduled to be shuttered upon liquidation of merchandise (projected to begin in February). Unfortunately the news didn’t surprise Derek Johnstone Ontario’s regional director for the United Food and Commercial Workers Canada (UFCW).

“Right from the get-go we saw Target act very arrogantly with Canadian retail workers and now we’ve seen it again” he says. “Despite all these glitzy advertising campaigns saying how important it was for Target to be our ‘neighbours’ when it came down to it — surprise surprise — we just have another transnational corporation where all it cares about is its bottom line and making its shareholders back in the U.S. fabulously wealthy.”

Target Canada opened in March 2013 following the almost $2-billion buyout of Zellers in early 2011. Some 25000 employees — five per cent of whom were unionized with the UFCW — lost their jobs in the transition; the UFCW estimated at the time that only one per cent of employees were rehired by Target. Johnstone points to this as proof that Target cared little about the long-term prosperity of Canadians.

“We had many cases where there were women working in stores for 40 years loyally building the business and then Target — when they bought their store location — unceremoniously showed them the door” says Johnstone. “It was nothing but an insult to the people who worked their whole lives building that business and contributing to their local economies as Zellers workers.”

Target Canada will apparently pay 16 weeks of severance to employees. Sears Canada — which has recently been laying off employees and off-loading leases — has suggested that Target employees apply for jobs. Johnstone who notes that the service sector is the fastest growing segment of the country’s labour market says it will take intervention from Ottawa to change things: “We believe that our federal government has a very urgent mandate in putting the interest of Canadian retail workers ahead of big transnationals like Target.”