By Julien Russell Brunet - Sunday, September 27, 2009 - 45 Comments
The U.S. and Britain protect pensions. So why doesn’t Canada?
When Nortel Networks ﬁled for bankruptcy protection in January, it was particularly hard on Ray Hounsell. The 63-year-old’s family had been working for the telecommunications giant for three generations, putting in more than 100 combined years of service—yet he is almost certainly going to get stiffed on his pension. “I spent 38 years in Nortel,” he says. “My dad spent 36 years in Nortel. And his father, my grandfather, spent 30 years in Nortel. Needless to say, it has been extremely difficult.”
Now, Hounsell is preparing to get in line with the rest of Nortel’s creditors—the bondholders, commercial lenders, and suppliers—for a piece of the company’s rapidly diminishing assets. At best, he ﬁgures he’ll get 70 per cent of the money he was promised, while banks that made secured loans to the company will likely get back every penny. Other former Nortel employees won’t be as lucky. According to some estimates, ex-Nortel employees entitled to severance payments and employees on long-term disability will get back just 10 per cent of the money they are owed. Continue…
By Julien Russell Brunet - Thursday, September 17, 2009 at 9:58 AM - 4 Comments
Blame culture. Or genes. Or Dilbert. In engineering, it’s a man’s world—for now.
The Eurythmics had it only partly right. Back in 1985, the British pop duo of Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart recorded Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves with the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin. A modern feminist anthem, the song makes this interesting observation: “The inferior sex has got a new exterior. We got doctors, lawyers, politicians too.” Indeed, much of that has come true. At several Canadian medical and law schools, women now outnumber men. But there’s one traditionally male-dominated field where men are still a clear majority—and where women’s representation has even declined in the past few years: engineering.
According to Engineers Canada, the number of women enrolled in engineering programs was on the rise for a full decade before plateauing in 2001, when 20.6 per cent of students were women. But since then, as more and more men have taken engineering, the number of women has remained flat. Since 2001, the proportion of female engineering students has dropped nearly every year, to just 17.3 per cent in 2007, and a mere 17.1 per cent in 2008. At the University of Toronto, for one, women comprised 26.6 per cent of engineering students in 2001, but just 21.4 per cent in 2008. And the phenomenon is not conﬁned to Canadian universities: female enrolment in engineering has plateaued across North America. Continue…
By Julien Russell Brunet - Tuesday, September 15, 2009 at 1:00 PM - 1 Comment
French workers are resorting to kidnapping and violent threats
More than one century ago, Alexis de Tocqueville described his mother country of France as “the most brilliant and the most dangerous nation in Europe and the best qualified in turn to become an object of admiration, hatred, pity or terror but never indifference.” Indeed, as other Western democracies have moved along quietly this summer, slowly recovering from the economic crisis, in quick succession France has shocked, exasperated and bemused. Over the past few months, there has been an increase in labour militancy, marking a significant deterioration in the already poor relations between the country’s trade unions and the French government.
In the spring, employees from at least eight companies kidnapped executives, demanding concessions such as better jobs, higher pay and fewer layoffs. In July, workers at New Fabris, a bankrupt car-parts plant, and at Nortel Networks, the insolvent telecommunications company, threatened to explode bottles of gas at their factories if employers did not meet demands for a better severance package. And most recently, angry truck drivers, also concerned about redundancy money, vowed to pour more than 8,000 litres of toxic products into the Seine River.
While all those threats have since been lifted, deep and unresolved problems remain. Says Jonah Levy, an associate professor of political science at the University of California, Berkeley: “There isn’t a tradition of regularized corporatist bargaining, but there is a tradition of citizens having a lot of expectations that the state will take care of them.” But at a time of global recession, the hands of the state—not to mention those of financially besieged corporations—are tied. And that may mean that growing extremism may continue to be an ever more troublesome part of France’s labour relations landscape. As one union representative said to Britain’s the Guardian, “People are desperate. Movements are going to only get more virulent, more violent.”
By Julien Russell Brunet - Thursday, August 27, 2009 at 1:40 PM - 11 Comments
Regnier was arrested at a Tamil protest in Toronto
If a university staff member is arrested at a protest, should students be expected to pay for her defence? That question is being hotly debated at the University of Toronto, where students are being asked to contribute to a legal defence fund for Angela Regnier, the executive director of the U of T Students’ Union (UTSU).
Regnier was arrested while participating in a Tamil demonstration in Toronto in May. She was released on bail and after appearing in court three times, the charges were withdrawn. Now she’s trying to cover her legal bills, and UTSU president Sandy Hudson has been appealing to local student unions for donations. Hudson says the money will “support the constitutional rights of individuals to demonstrate peacefully and participate in civil disobedience.” Continue…
By Julien Russell Brunet - Thursday, August 20, 2009 at 5:20 PM - 3 Comments
Poll respondents tended to project their own feelings onto Afghans
Many surveys have asked whether Westerners think NATO should leave Afghanistan—but a new poll conducted by WorldPublicOpinion.org adds a twist: it asks what we think the Afghan people want. The results are revealing.
Overall, 53 per cent of those polled said they believe the Afghan people want NATO forces to leave. But in each of the 20 countries polled by the University of Maryland project, the respondents seemed to project their own views onto the Afghan population. “There is a marked tendency for respondents to assume that Afghans share their view of the conﬂict,” says Michael Byers, a professor of political science at UBC. “In other words, if you support the NATO mission, you’re much more likely to assume that Afghans want NATO troops in their country.” Continue…
By Julien Russell Brunet - Thursday, August 13, 2009 at 1:20 PM - 11 Comments
Nortel workers could lose 90 per cent of their severance pay
At long last, there is a ray of hope for workers whose employers have filed for bankruptcy. Currently pensioners, the disabled, and employees owed severance pay are treated the same way as banks and other sophisticated creditors: when a company goes under, they have to get in line to fight for a piece of what’s left with everyone else.
But a group of former Nortel employees is looking to change that. They have asked the federal government to make an emergency amendment to the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act to give preferred status to the claims of pensioners, the disabled and severed employees—essentially putting workers at the front of the line. Continue…
By Julien Russell Brunet - Thursday, August 6, 2009 at 4:40 PM - 0 Comments
Republican splinter groups still want to stoke the sectarian fires
Once again violence has flared across Northern Ireland. In Ardoyne, a Catholic district in north Belfast, republicans threw petrol bombs, stones and bottles, injuring 23 police officers. The friction between nationalists and loyalists arose following the Twelfth, an annual—and contentious—celebration of Protestant King William III’s victory over Catholic King James II at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690.
The riots seem to have been orchestrated by a small number of dissident republicans from outside Ardoyne with the hope of stoking sectarian tensions. “When conflicts end,” says Dawn Brancati, an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science at Washington University in St. Louis, “there are frequently splinter groups that do not support the larger peace process and may remain active for many years after a peace agreement has been signed.” Continue…
By Julien Russell Brunet - Thursday, July 30, 2009 at 12:20 PM - 10 Comments
In 140 years, the average lifespan for men could be 100
For more than 100 years, Canadian women have outlived men. But according to the recently released “Canada Pension Plan Mortality Study,” men are about to start catching up in a big way. Over the next 65 years, it’s predicted that while women will add five years to their life expectancy at birth, Canadian men will top that with an additional seven. Today, women live approximately five years longer than men, but by the year 2075, that gap will have narrowed to three years.
“Mortality rates have been going down for a century and a half now, but up to the 1980s progress has been greater for women than for men,” says Bertrand Desjardins, a researcher in the demography department at Université de Montréal. The reasons are easy to see: more men, for example, smoked than women. Men also had poorer diets and worked in less safe environments. Continue…
By Julien Russell Brunet - Thursday, July 23, 2009 at 5:00 PM - 1 Comment
The schools will now teach math and science in Bahasa Malaysia
For the past six years, Malaysian state schools have taught math and science in English, the international language of science and business. But that experiment has recently come to an abrupt halt: in 2012, teachers will return to using the national Malay language, Bahasa Malaysia, in the classroom.
The announcement comes after months of demonstrations by the ethnic Malay majority, who were demanding a return to Malaysia’s traditional language. They say the use of English in schools undermines their struggle to modernize Bahasa Malaysia and develop a domestic scientific lexicon. Continue…
By Julien Russell Brunet - Thursday, July 23, 2009 at 2:20 PM - 7 Comments
Changes to child benefits could mean an extra $400 for parents
After almost a year of singing the economic blues, Canadian families are about to get a little financial relief. Starting this month, parents will get as much as $400 in additional benefits each year—tax-free—thanks to recent changes in the National Child Benefit system.
The changes mean parents can earn an extra $1,894 before the National Child Benefit supplement for low-income families is cut off, or the base benefit under the Canada Child Tax Benefit begins to get phased out. The effect of the change is significant: 2.4 million low- and middle-income Canadian families will be eligible for increased child tax benefits, and low-income families with two children will receive additional funds of up to $436 a year. Parents who have registered their children for the programs will automatically get the increase if they’re eligible. Continue…
By Julien Russell Brunet - Thursday, July 16, 2009 at 12:20 PM - 1 Comment
The program pays one pound sterling for each pound lost
In a bid to fight back against Britain’s exploding obesity crisis, a town in Essex is trying a novel approach: it’s going to pay people to lose weight.
Starting in September, Basildon’s Pound-for-Pound pilot project will reward each of its 100 volunteers with a £1 ($1.90) shopping voucher for every pound of weight they shed. Before-and-after photo sessions will document their progress, and the volunteers will get advice on how to best lose weight. At the end of the program, the participants return for a weigh-in, where they can cash in their weight loss for financial gain.
Similar programs have been used successfully in the U.S., but this project is the first of its kind in the U.K., where the adult obesity level is 24 per cent, the highest in Europe. Basildon in particular has an adult obesity rate of just under 26 per cent, the fifth-highest rate in Britain. Continue…