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GUEST COLUMN: Labour Day: a celebration of workers and unions

Mary Shortall, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour, is pleased to see the expansion of the Grand Falls-Windsor wastewater treatment facility move forward with a Women’s Employment Plan for the construction phase of the project.
Mary Shortall, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour. - SaltWire File Photo

By Mary Shortall

Labour Day is a very significant day for workers. It is a day of celebration for achievements made through union sacrifice and struggle. On Labour Day we celebrate the unions who led the way in the fight for rights and workplace benefits for their members, and for all workers.

Thanks to unions, we all have minimum standards at work, occupational health and safety laws, human rights legislation, universal health care, employment insurance, public pensions, maternity leave and more.

Unions are good for our society, our economy and our democracy — for fairness and equality for all workers.

Governments play a big role in our society, and especially in light of a federal election just around the corner, we are pushing hard for fairness and equality.

We are united in telling party leaders exactly what we expect from the next government. We must elect a government that prioritizes a fair Canada for everyone. We are closer than ever to winning a universal public pharmacare system. So close, in fact, that we’ve succeeded in making pharmacare a ballot box issue for this fall.

With over 3.5 million Canadians struggling to pay for the medications they need, Canada’s unions campaigned tirelessly for over two years to make universal pharmacare a top priority for the federal government. Most of us know someone who struggles to pay for their prescription medications. Even charges as low as $2 have been found to be a barrier to taking medication as prescribed.

We also need a federal government that prioritizes retirement security by improving public pensions, and protecting private pension plans when employers go bankrupt. What happened with the Sears workers can never happen again.

Too often, workers lose their pension when their employer goes bankrupt. These workers paid into a pension plan in good faith over the course of their career, but are in line after wealthy shareholders and creditors for any remaining funds. There usually isn’t much left, if anything at all. We need to fix this and prioritize retirees when their employer goes bankrupt.

We need a government that puts people first by ending precarity in the job market. Precarious work is on the rise, and many workers don’t have access to the training required to do their jobs effectively and safely. Our government must commit to creating good jobs that ensure decent work for everyone.

We are also in the midst of a climate crisis.

Our next government must be willing take bold action on climate change by investing in green manufacturing and infrastructure, better transit, green home and building retrofits, and just job transitions for workers. Ambitious climate action will help create good jobs to support families and communities, while ensuring that Canada does its part to protect the planet.

We will not be fooled by politics of fear and division.

The rising voice of hatred, and the normalization of racism are tearing apart the fabric of our country. There are those – including some politicians – who would seek to undermine the tolerance and inclusivity that we hold dear.

Those who exploit people’s fear and insecurity to fuel racism and intolerance do not have our interest at heart.

We need a government that will stand up to the rise of racism and intolerance in this country, and that will uphold values like equality and inclusion.

Along with our 70,000 members in every community in Newfoundland and Labrador, and in every sector of our economy, we will continue to fight for laws, programs and policies that make life fairer, safer and more equal for everyone.

We celebrate our gains — improved legislation around violence at work, including domestic violence, safer workplaces and increased benefits for injured workers.

This Labour Day, let’s all support progress by electing candidates who listen when we tell them what we want for Canada. Let’s do it together!

Mary Shortall is the president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour. She writes from St. John’s


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