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Letter to the editor: Labour Day a chance to reflect on workers' rights

Recovery from COVID-19 impossible without worker protections and safety net, writes president of Thunder Bay and District Labour Council.
Day of Mourning 3
Carlos Santander-Maturana, president of the Thunder Bay and District Labour Council speaks during the National Day of Mourning in 2018. (File photo)

To the editor:

Traditionally for many people Labour Day is just another summer holiday, the end of a great summer and back to school for many families. Workers, on the other hand, and in particular unionized workers, gather in picnics, rallies and other community events, to commemorate their achievements and to get ready for the tough year ahead.

Labour Day is also a day to highlight issues affecting workers in the workplace, collective bargaining, labour legislation and lately the interference of government bodies with the free collective bargaining process, and last but not least, the health and safety of workers in the workplace.

This year Labour Day is about Health and Safety as there is no question that COVID-19 is changing everything, and that the Health and Safety of workers is of paramount importance to them, their families and their labour organizations.

There is a consensus in the labour movement that there is not a possible recovery of the national, provincial, and local economy unless the workers are at the centre of the plan to re-open the economy. In order to achieve a viable, expedited plan of economic recovery, the nation needs a comprehensive plan to invest in good stable jobs, and foremost, offer the protection that workers need to take paid sick days when facing medical issues.

What we do not need is political demagogy claiming that they are supporting the workforce during the pandemic, while in fact, it is quite the contrary. There is no question that COVID-19 is not the great equalizer it was first believed to be. The virus is exposing the tremendous holes in our social safety net.

The lack of a comprehensive national day care system based on the principles of universality and affordability, the lack of a comprehensive not-for-profit long term care system, the erosion lately in our Province of labour standards to protect workers not covered by collective agreements, are all issues of tremendous significance for workers and their labour organizations. There can be no possible economic recovery unless governments, at the federal and provincial level are putting in place mechanisms to address those issues.

In Ontario, one of the first pieces of legislation enacted by the Ford’s Progressive Conservative government was to repeal the previous government’s Bill 148: The Fair workplaces, Better Jobs Act. Mr. Ford introduced Bill 47, a Bill that removed large portions of the Fair workplaces, Better Jobs Act. 

Among the most damaging measures was the reduction of 10 paid sick days to merely three. COVID-19 forced the PC government to start doing a fast back pedalling as the virus highlighted the lack of foresight, and the incredibly unbalanced approach in favour of employers taken by the Tory government.

We need to remind ourselves that the least respected segments of the labour force, besides the health care sector, were the ones that kept the Province operating, ensuring that people did have proper sustenance, that hospitals were clean and sanitized, and that people were able to somewhat normalize their lives.

You just cannot use legislation to strip minimum labour standards and then, when facing a pandemic of global proportions, praise front line workers, but not introduce measures to entrench meaningful protection in labour legislation.

The labour movement is vigilant, and it will not easily forget the damage inflicted by right-wing forces in government. We are calling all levels of government to replace lost jobs with better ones, to strengthen Canadian public health care, to introduce a national pharmacare system, and to ensure that our social safety net is disaster-proof for the benefit of all Canadians such as a National Universal Day Care System.

The difficult lessons of the global pandemic must be learned, and we need to change our course of action from a laissez faire approach to one that is putting not business, but people first.

 

In Solidarity,

Carlos Santander-Maturana

President, Thunder Bay and District Labour Council