Labour Views for August 31, 2016

We Stand for Fairness

Written by: Alexander Lambrecht, President Northern Territories Federation of Labour

This Labour Day, union members and allies all across Canada will stand together to show that “We Stand for Fairness”!  When workers stand up for fairness, they get results.

Together, working people have won decent wages, pensions, and work hours, fair treatment, health benefits, job security, training, maternity leave, paid vacations, and safer workplaces. But unions didn’t stop there. What they gained for their members, they gained for everybody else by demanding more from the people they elected to boards, councils and legislatures. That’s how we got some of the things most of us take for granted today – minimum wages, statutory holidays, paid vacation time, public health insurance, public pensions, weekends, etc.

Working people built Canada’s middle class and created a country that values fairness as one of the cornerstones of our society.

More than 55% of workers in low wage jobs in Canada work for large corporations. Ongoing living wage campaigns, supported by workers, push up minimum wages to keep pace with the cost of living and get closer to a decent wage.

Generations ago, unionized workers didn’t just demand dignity in retirement for themselves. They demanded public pensions for all Canadians, whether in paid work or not. They fought for and won Old Age Security in 1952, the Canada Pension Plan in 1965, and the Guaranteed Income Supplement in 1966. Today, we are fighting to increase the benefits paid by these plans for all retirees.

One of the greatest stories in world labour history is the fight for the 8-hour day.  In the early 1800’s a normal work week was 14 to 16 hours per day, 7 days a week. But, thanks to workers standing together for fairness, working time has been reduced to improve work-life balance.

Historically, workers who were unlucky enough to get sick or injured at work were on their own, and faced financial ruin if they were unable to work. For this reason, workers were at the forefront of fighting for universal public health insurance and were instrumental in winning Canada’s national Medicare program in 1966.

Before World War II, employers had almost ultimate power over workers. They could discipline, demote and fire workers simply because they didn’t they didn’t like them, and they were free to play favorites on a whim. Workers got together to ensure rules were enacted to prevent this type of discrimination. Employers now need to have good justifications for dismissing workers.

Workers were also able to secure paid educational leaves and equal access to the training and skills upgrading that they need to keep pace with today’s rapid technological changes.

Thanks to workers standing together, today’s working parents can share 35 weeks of parental/adoption leave through the EI program, giving them the economic stability and valuable time they need to care for their children.

All provinces and territories, except Saskatchewan, allow for two weeks of paid vacation.  The International Labour Organization (ILO) recommends that “the period of paid vacation shall in no case be less than three working weeks for one year of service.” Workers today are standing together to see that this recommendation is implemented in Canada.

Perhaps the most important gain that has been made by workers standing together is the right to refuse unsafe work. It is our demand that health and safety take priority in the workplace. When you leave for work in the morning it is only fair that you should be able to expect to return home!

On Monday September 5, the Northern Territories Federation of Labour invites you to join us at the Somba K’e Civic Plaza in front of Yellowknife City Hall from noon to 2 pm for our free annual Labour Day BBQ. Together, we will celebrate workers and stand up for fairness!