Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) president Bea Bruske highlighted what labour and workers see as important priorities for Canada’s new federal government when she was in Thompson Sept. 15 to support NDP candidate Niki Ashton’s re-election campaign.
Among the topics she discussed were equal treatment for all workers, improving the social safety net to benefit all Canadians, valuing workers more and ensuring open lines of communication with the federal government.
Bruske said the government needs to ensure all workers operate under the same rules and that programs are designed to counteract unequal outcomes resulting from government policies and market forces.
“The pandemic has really shown us that people have not all been affected in the same way and we know that women and racialized workers in particular are still much harder hit in terms of joblessness and in terms of full employment than any other segment of the population and so we need some special attention that is going to fix that particular issue,” she said. “We’re also really concerned about … gig employees being misclassified as gig employees when they really should be workers who are eligible for all of the same rights and benefits that every other worker has under provincial employment standards and if they’re federal employees, under the federal employment standards – that they have access to employment insurance when they need it, that they have full access to CPP.”
Virtually everything the federal government does affects workers and there is much more that it could do to benefit them and everyone else, Bruske said.
“We need to strengthen our social safety net. We need to ensure unemployment insurance works for all workers and is there when it’s needed. We need to ensure our health care system is robust and that it works and that it’s funded properly and that means, finally, a national pharmacare program which we’ve been promised but has not been delivered. We need to make sure we’re taking care of elder care, long-term care homes and that they’re public not private. We’ve seen what’s happened over the last 18 months in privately owned health care. Dental care needs to be part of our national health care strategy.”
COVID-19 has negatively affected many people’s incomes, but for others it has been a financial boon and workers deserve to have some of that good fortune come their way, she said.
“Huge corporations that have made a ton of money during this last couple of months should be valuing their workers a whole lot more. Workers need to be valued, not just by saying thank you once in a while but at the bargaining table as well. For those workers that don’t yet have a union … there is an option for them to have a voice in their workplace by signing a union card.”
Recognition of that fact has spurred increased recognition of the value of unions, not only for their members but for workers as a whole.
“The pandemic has shown us that we really rely on all workers to make up our economy and to make sure that we can get the goods and services that we need. I feel like there’s been a renewed appreciation for the work that everyone does. We need to look at the kinds of jobs folks have and the kinds of jobs that we as a society have and how we’re valuing them in terms of their paycheque at the end of the day. All of us benefit when there are better jobs and when people have more money to spend at the end of the day to feed their family, to house themselves, to clothe their children."
The Liberal government hasn’t always delivered on its promises through the first two terms but Bruske and the CLC hope that their concerns will, at the very least, be considered.
“What we’re looking forward to is having a government that will pick up the phone when we call, when we want to discuss worker issues, that we have an opportunity to have that really good robust discussion and debate,” she said. “That doesn’t necessarily mean we’re always going to agree on things but it means that we’re going to explore what the avenues are to resolving those problems.”