The Labour Day weekend signals a lot of things for Canadians. It’s time for the kids to go back to school, friends gather together for one last camping trip and you can start getting sweaters and toques ready for Fall.
What it really should mean is that you take a minute to think about the labour movement and why it is important today. There are a lot of reasons and here are just a few.
Experience Fighting for Workers’ Rights
The labour movement has been fighting for workers’ rights for decades and are the reason we have so many of the laws and rights that are in place in the workplace today. Unions fought to ensure that there were health and safety standards in effect across the country, that people are entitled to properly scheduled work weeks and they set the bar for fair wages across industries.
The Toronto Printers Strike in 1872 saw over 100 strikers in Toronto fight hard to win a 54-hour work week and better wages. In 1914 unions helped to create the first Canadian model for provincial legislation that recognized that ‘some level of injury is inevitable and that compensation should be provided.’ Unions also fought for the Unemployment Insurance Act (EIA), which according to Statistics Canada was created in 1940 and over 30 years later in 1971 unions helped push for maternity rights to be added to it where mothers with ‘20 or more insurable weeks could claim up to 15 weeks of benefits.’
The pay gap in Canada is very real and not shrinking. Statistics Canada found that the income gap between visible minorities, Indigenous people or recent immigrants and the rest of Canada remains large, with the gap only narrowing by 2 per cent for Indigenous and recent immigrants and widening by 1 per cent for visible minorities between 2006 to 2016. The gap is alive and well for women as well who earned $0.87 for every $1 earned by a man last year. A lot of this is due to the decline in unions who have fought for equal pay for decades.
In Alberta alone, immigrants earned $3.49/hour more with a union, and Aboriginal workers earned $8.47/hour more. Union women in Alberta earn $7.76/hour more than non-union women.
Growth of Precarious Work
Precarious work is starting to become the new norm in Canada, a fact that is very troubling. This is when workers who fill permanent job needs are denied full workplace rights such as benefits, a fair wage, a stable schedule and a voice in the workplace. They also don’t allow you to unionize, because they know that unions fight for all of those rights of employees. Unions are the only answer to the rise of precarious work.
Wage theft can include not paying for hours worked, overtime or breaks, not paying minimum wage, illegal deductions, withholding tips or denial of pay for sick leave or vacation. This usually happens in precarious work, but can happen in high-paying jobs as well. In the last three years in Alberta, there have been more than 6,000 wage theft claims, adding up to nearly $19 million owed to workers. Unions ensure that this will not happen to you. They have grievance procedures in place that will hold employers accountable to their responsibility to pay their employees.
Health and Safety
Everyone should feel safe and healthy in the workplace – it’s a basic human right. Unfortunately, research has shown that Albertans are afraid to report workplace injuries because of being fired. Research released by the University of Alberta’s Parkland Institute found that there were around 170,000 injuries serious enough to require time off or modified work in 2016, but only 45,000 were reported. Out of a poll of 2,000, workers they found that nearly 70 per cent of disabling workplace injuries in Alberta go unreported. With a union on your side, you have someone to back you up in the workplace and ensure you are working in a safe workplace. With a union, you will never be afraid to report and employers are held responsible.
All of these examples show exactly why we should celebrate and support unions today. They are the strongest force against inequality, wage theft and health and safety violations in the workplace and society.
It’s well known that as unionization has declined, inequality has increased and wages have remained become stagnant. Not only do union members earn more than non-union members, but they help set the bar for salaries in industries across Canada.
This labour day, take a moment to think about what unions have done for workplaces in the past and how they continue to fight for the rights of all Canadians in the workplace today.