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Don’t worry, it’s only four Cranbrook jobs
Four lost jobs may not seem like much in a city the size of Cranbrook. After all, in the current economic climate good jobs are scarce and people can be excused if they greet the news of the CP Rail layoffs with a shrug. But a railway is not like other businesses. Most companies do not have millions of tons of steel speeding their way across the country every day.
When you look at these cuts in that context, the news becomes a little more dire. The people who are laid off are carmen, a position that inspects dangerous goods as they go through the city. That leaves only three workers, less than half of what was deemed necessary before, to conduct these important inspections. If the reason for the layoffs was that the four carmen weren’t doing the job properly, they would have been replaced and this would not be a story. Instead, this is a story about profits and looking the health of the company, this seems callous.
Hold on though. A company has a duty to its shareholders to make a profit. If cutting jobs was a way to keep the struggling railway profitable, then it had to be done—that is, if it was struggling.
According to its own release, CP Rail’s second quarter results of 2013 included total revenues of $1.5 billion, which was an increase of 10 per cent and a quarterly record. This gave the company, in that quarter, a net income of $252 million compared with the same quarter of last year’s $103 million. That is a 138 per cent increase.
Of course, this increase in revenue is the result of cutting jobs, increasing train speed, adding cars to trains and reducing idle time in the yards. But how much profit is enough? Whether the number is $252 million or $103 million, that is pure profit—meaning everyone has been paid and debts serviced. The shareholders were already getting dividends. In other words, the company was in the black before these measures; now it is just in the black more.
It isn’t as though the railways have adapted to a steady and predictable flow of goods across the country and through this city, making safety inspection redundant. Oil transport by rail has increased by 28,000 per cent since 2009, as stated by the Canadian Railway Association and that number may grow. In Cranbrook, there are large amounts of anhydrous ammonia going right through the city. That particular chemical has had a role in tragedy before, as noted in the August 19th edition of the Daily Townsman.
The price of profitability, besides people losing their jobs, has been high. According to CP Rail, train accidents have jumped 24 per cent since these measures have been put in place. Remember, a large part of the carmens’ job is safety.
How can these cuts be made then? Some are pointing to the Harper government’s cutting the safety budget for railroads from $36.9 million to $33.8 million. Some are going back further, to the Liberal government of 1999 that eliminated the role of Transport Canada in railroad oversight, giving the railroads the power to self-police. That particular piece of legislation caused the Canada Safety Council to issue a report way back in 2007 that warned about an impending rail disaster because of the deregulation. Of course, that report was resoundingly ignored.
So the railway is making profits hand over fist while it is increasing the capacity and frequency of its trains, many of them carrying dangerous or environmentally hazardous goods—and it cuts safety inspectors.
The railway has already cut around 3,500 jobs in total this year nationally on its way to its goal of 6,500. That is 6,500 people who will lose good paying jobs and 6,500 people not contributing nearly as much to the Canadian economy.
“We can go higher than that,” CP Rail chief executive Hunter Harrison said about the cuts.
He should have said “lower than that,” because government cutting regulations or oversight funds is not the cause behind the country’s or Cranbrook’s recent layoffs. It was all about the bottom line—pity that line doesn’t factor in the workers.
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