amazonThis is the “logistics centre” for Amazon in Pforzheim, Germany.  James Bloodworth, a  young British writer recently published a book about his six months of low paid work in the UK.  He tackles interesting issues such as the hatred of immigrants in the north of England, and  the tumbling of the trade unions in modern day workplaces.   — Bloodsworth, with no credentials and no university degree,  went to work at Amazon in a  town in northern England, but his working conditions and living conditions plus the impoverishment of spirit make for a fascinating read in Hired:  Undercover in Low Wage Britain. hiredI highly recommend it .

A friend recommended The Alice Network to me.  The author manages to bridge the two World Wars with a “girls’ story” of friendship, spying and courting.  Eve,  an English spy in WWI, is by far a more interesting a character than Charlotte, an American in her late teens.  Most of the “action” takes place in 1947, when the two women meet and go off on what becomes a mad-cap adventure — with some heart-throbbing spells of romance combined with rather conventional tear-jerking moments of loss.  Eve’s  mission is to find a French enemy who destroyed her life and health 32 years before.  Charlotte wants to find a young cousin, missing in France since 1939.  aliceAll is a bit predictable, and a bit twee.  But the book moves quickly — the writer seems too sure of herself. 

widowThis is a brilliant book by Joyce Carol Oates.  Known for her scores of fiction books, essays and other literary outputs, Oates writes a candid and meaningful book about being suddenly widowed after 47 years of a very happy marriage to Ray Smith, a literary critic. On the one hand the book exudes unhappiness — but on the other it is a sometimes funny and usually persuasive story about the loss of love, and the loss of self — and finding both again, rather magically.  Highly recommended by me.  



What to Read, and What to Watch

Two books about life in Scarborough, Ont., a subway ride east of downtown Toronto, are excellent but very different.  The one I prefer is David Chariandy’s novel Brother. brother1It is a relentless look at how black Canadians are stigmatized and marginalized in a poor suburb of Canada’s most ‘multicultural’ city.  Two young boys and their mother emigrate to Scarborough from the West Indies. From the saggy chairs at the public library, to shabby townhouses to the walk-up apartment buildings, the teens trudge the limits of lives. There are few kindness and no comforts. The book is stunning; it’s won two awards including the Toronto Book Award in 2017. scarborHernandez’ book is also about the disenfranchised of Scarborough.  Stories dovetail — the story about an Indigenous family in a shelter, a Korean aesthetician in a beauty parlour, and several others twist around issues such as identity, religion, hardship, social services and — most importantly a free breakfast program. There are swings from melancholy to anger to actual fun in the book — it is well done and you won’t put it down. 

primeLast night I watched Marjorie Prime. This  brilliant film is about ageing and death. But it’s fascinating.  An 85 year old woman discusses her late husband, his wants and needs with a hologram.  The hologram is a younger version of her late husband.  He is a cipher — repeats what she wants to hear.  Except things get testy with her grown daughter and son-in-law who live with her — and their memories which are usually at odds with the mother’s and the hologram’s.  I borrowed the DVD from the the Public Library…

Unless you really like Joseph Cotton and Orson Welles, I’d give this a miss. It’s more than 90 minutes long however the scenes of postwar Vienna are a bit staggering. Made in 1949, it is one of the most celebrated films of the post WWII period. I recommend you read Graham Greene’s book by the same name instead. The music, the signature tune, is played on a zither. That must have been a first.  But the performances are wooden, and the love interest rather overdone.  the_third_man


Banksy’s latest poster on Palestine!


Doing it Right on Remembrance Day!

first published in the

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – I was in Uncommon Grounds on South Park St for a coffee on Remembrance Day morning. When I went to the counter, I asked the staff if they knew they had to be given another day off, with pay since they were working on Remembrance Day.  One server told me they were getting double pay for today, so that would be in lieu of another day off with pay. I didn’t quibble.

At about 10.57 am, one of the employees from behind the counter spoke out loudly, “Can I have your attention please?” Everyone in the coffee shop stopped to listen. He asked patrons to close their laptops, and not use their phones because the next three minutes were going to be silent in honour of the people who lost their lives in the two world wars. Everyone stood exactly as they were – I sat silently with a friend; another woman stood in line to get a coffee refill. No one seemed to look at a screen. One person walked into the café, and stood still when he saw everyone else was not moving. The three baristas also did not move. After the three minutes, the man behind the counter thanked everyone for their respect.

As I wrote earlier this week, the three minutes of silence around 11.00 is in the Remembrance Day Act,  as is giving working staff an extra day off with pay – if they work on Remembrance Day. I congratulate Uncommon Grounds – they did something right!!

See also: Remembrance Day in Nova Scotia – Why you might not get paid

Judy Haiven is a retired Industrial Relations Professor at St Mary’s. She is a founding member of Equity Watch, which can be found on Facebook.

Know your rights: More on bosses breaking the law on Remembrance Day (updated)

Originally published on November 13, 2017. Updated and republished on November 6, 2018.

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – On Remembrance Day morning, I drove to a gas station near downtown Halifax to fill up the car for a trip to the Annapolis Valley At the cashier’s counter a woman customer said, “wish me luck. I have to work today and it’s going to be busy.”

She said she worked as a bartender. The cashier at the counter said, “Yeah, I wish this was a holiday so we’d get extra pay.”

I told the cashier and the bartender about the Remembrance Day Act in NS – if they were paid for 15 of the last 30 days, and worked Remembrance Day, they had to get an extra day off with pay.

However, if your employer is closed on Remembrance Day, you get the day off without pay, unless you are represented by a union.  Most unions have negotiated pay for their members for Remembrance Day.

Both women were shocked. The bartender said, “My boss told me I’d just get paid time and a half for today.” The gas clerk said she expected only straight time pay for Remembrance Day. The women thanked me and said they’d each tell their boss.

An hour into my drive to Middleton, I stopped in at a well-known coffee shop. All fast-food chains and restaurants are allowed to open on Remembrance Day. They are exempt from having to close because, according to the Remembrance Day Act, they are deemed to be part of the “hospitality industry.”

As I sat down to drink my coffee at about 10.55 am, I watched the 8 women servers behind the counter pour coffee and bag donuts at a hectic pace. Waves of customers filed in and out of the restaurant.

I waited for the clock to register 10.59. The Remembrance Day Act insists that all work cease “for a period of three minutes, at one minute before eleven o’clock in the forenoon on Remembrance Day.” Rather than stop, the pace seemed to pick up. So I went to the counter and asked to speak to the manager.

A white man, about 40 years of age, greeted me cheerfully. I told him I noticed no one at the counter stopped working for three minutes around eleven. Panic crossed his face, “I just forgot, I guess,” he told me. “I was in the office in back.” I told him I was not an enforcement officer, but it was the law. Looking relieved, he said, “Maybe I can give the workers three minutes at 11.11 instead?” I told him the time was already 11.15. He said, “Maybe at noon then—I don’t mean any disrespect.” I smiled and said, “I hope you know you have to pay these workers for their shifts today and give them an extra day off with pay, because of Remembrance Day.”

He stood up straighter. In a patronizing tone he told me, “I think I know the law. I just have to pay them double time for today.”

I smiled again, no I don’t think so; I just wrote a blog about this; I teach it, I told him, handing him my card.

“I’ll go run off the law then,” he said tersely. He came back a short time later holding a printout of the Remembrance  Day Act. He looked puzzled, “the law must have changed – I don’t remember any of this. When did it change?”

“I think about 1989,” I said.

“Can’t be, there’s some rules about days they have to have worked before…”

I said, “Yes the employee has to have been paid for 15 of the last 30 days just before today.” I pointed out section 6, which explains the employee who works Remembrance Day is entitled to another day off with pay. He shrugged.

I guess he was worried that I’d report him. The act says that a boss can be fined $1000 for not complying with the law, and the employer can be fined up to $15,000 for non-compliance. But this boss—perhaps he is the franchise owner– did not have a clue about the rules.

I wonder how many bosses make it up as they go along? Lots more than we know. And employees – how many of them know their rights? If they know their rights how many are too afraid of losing their jobs to say something?

See also: Remembrance Day in Nova Scotia – Why you might not get paid

Judy Haiven is a retired Industrial Relations Professor at St Mary’s. She is a founding member of Equity Watch, which can be found on Facebook

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Watching Présumé Coupable (Guilty), reminiscent of the horrors of Martensville….

Martensville.  The word still makes me shiver, after 25 years.  Maybe it’s Hallowe’en coming — probably not.

First off, I have to tell you that nothing happened.  No 9-month-old babies were handcuffed; no 11-year-old boys were forced to masturbate in front of a 17 year old girl holding a rifle; there was no cabal of policemen who sexually assaulted children after school in a blue barn out of town.  This was all made up.

Martensville, Sask is 8 km from Saskatoon, what is quaintly called a bedroom community.  Suddenly there was a complaint by a mother that her child, who attended a private home babysitting service,  was sexually abused by that caregiver—and her family.  More than 12 people, including the babysitter, plus a teenage girl who once pumped gas in Edson, Alberta, and five cops from three different police  forces were charged with sexual abuse of children. Over 190 charges were laid. This was in 1992,mart-2aerial view of Martensville, Sk. 

At the time, the babysitter, Linda Sterling, was in her 40s.  Her husband, Ron, also middle-aged was then deputy director of a provincial prison.  Ron also stood accused as did their son in his early 20s.   A woman who was a well-published writer in Saskatchewan, and her university-aged son stood accused when the crown insisted they allowed their near-vacant blue-roofed barn to be used as the ‘torture chamber’ for the sexual assaults against children as young as 9 months old. The woman lost her job in the education system as no one wanted a teacher tainted by the sex abuse scandal in Martensville.

I lost four friends, including a legal aid lawyer, who insisted that “we believe the children.”  The Saskatoon Sexual Assault Centre demanded my resignation because I refused to “believe the children”. Signs went up in  living room windows across the city, “we believe the children.”  The province’s lead social worker and witness for the Crown lived across the street from me – I feared him falsely accusing me and my husband.  

Everyone was suspect – yet there was no hard evidence—no medical evidence of penetration or bruising or infection, no corroborating evidence to back up what the school-aged children said under oath, no physical evidence that any child had ever even been in blue barn.   

The pre-school and school-aged children were “led” in their evidence by local social workers, police and psychologists.  They got incentives such as a meal at McDonald’s  for essentially making up stories. I was all but barred from the local movie theatre because the Martensville “social work team” rented space on the second floor. 

One rarely heard a dissenting voice—at the time only few of us dared to question the charges of ‘satanic sexual assault’  in relation to what happened in Martensville. Many accepted that  the dozen adults were guilty as charged—on the flimsiest of evidence

.mart-1a modern day sign, for building trust with the police….

I remember the summer before the trials began.  I had asked several friends – who demanded total secrecy — for money to pay for an apartment so the Sterlings, who lived in out of town, could stay closer to the courthouse in Saskatoon.   The Sterling family had lost almost everything, the babysitting income, Ron’s job in corrections, and their tract house in Martensville. 

With about $2,000 cash, I went from short-term rental buildings to sleazy hotels in Saskatoon.  Almost every manager told me, “we have children living in this building, we can’t have the Sterlings stay here.”  I finally convinced a woman manager at the King George hotel, a down-at-the-heels downtown hotel built in 1911, to rent the Sterlings a suite for a month or more. As long as you will pay in advance, she told me—and don’t tell anyone. There they stayed. 

pr-george the   1911  newly built King George Hotel, Saskatoon.

The trial lasted for months.  In the end, only Travis Sterling the 25-year-old Sterling son,  was convicted.  He got jail time for touching a teenage girl —a blanket between his fingers and her body.   Everyone else was exonerated. 

Most didn’t get their jobs back.  Middle-aged cops, the writer and others suffered in every way—financially, socially, and emotionally.  Careers were ruined.

But wasn’t just Martensville.  In Saskatoon what became known as the “foster family  case” involved an extended family, the Klassens, who took in three pre-teen siblings as foster children.  The children complained of sexual abuse and ritual abuse by the grandmother, who used a wheelchair, and by other relatives.  The The grandfather pled guilty and went to jail in an exchange for the police dropping charges against three family members.  More than a decade later, the foster son, now in his 20s, recanted, as did his sisters.  He recanted on CBC-TV’s the Fifth Estate.

In Canada and the US there were hundreds of convictions for improbable, actually impossible tales of sexual assault and ritual Satanic abuse in the 1980s and ‘90s.  Police now call it an “emotional hysteria.”  But years ago, they were very quick to lay charges and destroy people’s lives.   A brilliant 2011  French film Présumé Coupable [Guilty] reveals exactly how this could happen.   The film was made about an actual court case started in 2000 that lasted six years.  In Outreau, France, northwest of Paris, a bailiff, his wife and more than 10 others were charged in a case very reminiscent of Martensville.   This film will scare and exhaust you – but it’s a necessary antidote to what was more than decades of injustice and destruction created by false accusations in North America and Europe.

1.5 minute Trailer is here:   (film has Eng. subtitles)

get it at the Halifax Library for free.

On the Picket Line – with the Crane Operators on the Halifax waterfront

“Construction companies on this site are losing $100,000 a day, but we’ve been without a contract since May, and the company doesn’t want to pay retroactive pay*” said one crane operator who was picketing in front of Queen’s Marque on the Halifax waterfront.  

More than 20 tower cranes are idle across mainland Nova Scotia because of a strike by hundreds of crane operators and mobile crane operators, members of the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) Local 721.  While some construction is going on at sites around metro Halifax and Dartmouth, it will slow to a stop if the crane operators continue their strike.

me-craneMe with my new friends, the striking crane operators! 

“All the other trades have settled.  Management is going after the tower crane operators,” said one operator. “They are trying to roll back our double-time wages for weekend work, and give us only time and a half.  The next thing they want is to make us work a six day week, rather than the five we work now.”

Local 721 is composed of tower crane operators and mobile operators. The former climb the cranes and operate them from dizzying heights.  The mobile operators are the people who erect and take down the 300-ton giant cranes in sections and move them from worksite to worksite.

The tower operators hoist all the steel, work that they say puts them on par with the work the Ironworkers do.  The IUOE is looking for their wages to match those of the Ironworkers—an increase of 75 cents per hour each year over a three-year contract. “All we’re asking for is the cost of living – an increase of 1.5%,” said the cran operator.  Management has offered $1.00 in totalover three years.  Tower crane operators earn $37.56 per hour. crane-2018

The workers say that management better decide to settle with Local 721 soon. With winter coming, there shell of the building has to be finished, and the concrete poured, so the rest of the work can go on through the winter. “There needs to be heat from propane heaters inside to cure the concrete.”

* Retroactive pay would be pay for work already performed at a lower rate. For example, if a union collective agreement says a workers earn $11 an hour until the agreement expires, the union and management then have to negotiate a new collective agreement.  Maybe that agreement is concluded 6 months after the first contract runs out.  Let’s say the new agreement calls for a $12 an hour wage.  That means the company could owe the workers retroactive pay from the time the old contract expires until the new contract starts. In that case the workers are owed the difference between the old wage and the new wage for all hours worked in the six months were “underpaid.”   In many unions, retroactive pay is the norm.  Not so in the crane workers’ union.