Workers employed by Canadian Forces Moral and Welfare Services (CFMWS), unionized through PSAC-UNDE, have been on general strike at 6 different military bases, since January 15th. This strike, a historic first for these workers, is growing stronger and has exposed the longstanding exploitation of low-income workers by CFMWS and the Department of National Defense.
The workers who are on strike
Across the military bases, these workers perform a wide range of services, from bartending at the messes, butchering, retail and stock management at the CANEX grocery stores, and fitness instruction at the gymnasiums, to accounts and clerical work, aquatics, and recreational programming at the bases. However, despite their work being similar to the operational support provided by the Federal Public Service workers at the very same bases, these workers are excluded from the core Federal Public Service, and their employer CFMWS is a Non-Public Funds Employer.
This exclusion from FPS, and the creation of this third-party employer, CFMWS who separately provides Personnel Support Programs (PSP), has resulted in the workers making well below living wages, many below poverty line, for decades. A large majority of these workers make only $16.65/hr and have little in terms of benefits. The wages are incomparable to that of the core Federal Public Service workers.
For example, shipping and receiving clerks at Garrison Petawawa make 52% less when compared to those within the FPS performing the exact same work. The wages across the different bases under the same employer (CFMWS) are also wildly inconsistent. For example, a Sales Associate could be making wither $17 or $21 just based on which base they work at, even when the employer remains the same.
It is a direct result of these extreme disparities and poverty wages, that 600 workers at 6 different bases walked off the job on January 15th. They had voted with a resounding 94% positive at their strike vote. Now, they remain resolved to continue the strike until their demands of a living, thriving wage and a consistent national wage grid, are met.
The mandate of CFMWS as an employer is to provide “morale and welfare” services to the Canadian Armed Forces, their families, and the communities around bases. This winter, the workers are pointing out the stark hypocrisy in that mandate: that CFMWS cares about the ‘morale and welfare’ of everyone except their own workers, the ones who deliver those very services and bring in the revenue.
What is CFMWS?
To understand how workers are systematically impoverished at CFMWS, one needs to look no further than the history of this organization and the obsolete notion of ‘Non-Public Property’. The Non-Public Property (NPP) was created through the National Defence Act as a unique kind of Crown Property, the governance of which remains with the Chief of Defense Staff, who receives direction regarding the administration and audit of the funds from the Ministry of Defense. The funds themselves are to be managed and administered through the Canadian Forces Morale & Welfare Services (CFMWS).
The overall unspoken argument behind this convoluted public/non-public structure, is to be able create a ‘self-sustaining’ system where the only revenue from the services are put back in to fund the services, thereby attempting to decrease or eliminate the onus on the Federal Government over time. This recipe for worker exploitation has led to growing resentment by the workers themselves. As services offered by CFMWS expand, the wages of workers have absolutely stagnated over decades and the employer claims they have ‘no funds’ . This, however, is far from the truth. A Public Interest Commission Inquiry has found that 40% of the funding for these workers come directly from the Ministry of Defense. Even beyond that, the top board members of CFMWS make 6-digit salaries, with the CEO Ian Poulter making $250,000 a year, while his workers are forced to miss meals and default on mortgage payments. The class divide here is stark, brutal, and runs right through the heart of Canada’s military establishment and is beginning to show itself. The workers have had enough as they embark on their historic strike.
Increased strikes at bases
In the last few years, military bases across Canada have witnessed significant class dissent and working-class action. From cleaners, to federal public services, to NPF workers, we are witnessing that the contradictions of class are laid bare more than ever at these worksites.