August 30, 2016

A Labour of Love

A Labour Day Message from Michael Eso, President, Victoria Labour Council:

For Canada’s unions, making life better for working people is, to put it simply, a labour of love. Values like fairness, equality and working together are what drive us to make a difference. Labour Day is our time to celebrate our work and the everyday victories we win to make life better for everyone. This year, there is much to celebrate.

For nearly a decade, we advocated for stronger public pensions. Now the federal government and Canada’s Premiers have finally agreed that it is time to expand the Canada Pension Plan. This will mean the first expansion of Canada Pension Plan retirement benefits in fifty years. It wasn’t easy, but I believe it was absolutely necessary.

Why did we do this? The answer is simple – because after a lifetime of work, no one should have to struggle just to make ends meet, no one should have to retire into poverty.

We knew something needed to be done and not just for the one third of workers in the country with a union. The status quo had us headed for the rocks and a future with an unbearable number of seniors living in poverty. Today, 11 million Canadians don’t have access to a workplace pension plan. Saving for retirement is harder than it was in the past. We needed a solution that worked for everyone. Expanding the CPP was the best way forward. Much still needs to be done to help today’s seniors who find themselves struggling to make ends meet. But expanding the CPP means a better future for today’s young workers. They can look forward to a better public pension when they are ready to retire.

While today’s seniors still need help to avoid falling into poverty, it is young workers who will benefit most from this change. Already faced with a hostile job market and record levels of debt, today’s young workers needed a new way to save for retirement.

That better future is why Canada’s unions are also working to turn the tide against the growth of precarious work – dead-end jobs that too often leave workers without fair wages or even the most basic protections. Working for a living shouldn’t mean living in poverty. Working for a living shouldn’t mean not having enough time to care for your family, not having enough time to have a life. And it certainly doesn’t mean having to choose between your health and your next paycheque.

Yet, this is the reality for too many workers today. It’s especially true for young workers and it’s no way to build a future. We’ve learned the hard way that good jobs don’t just happen. They need to be grown and nurtured. That’s why Canada’s unions are talking to the federal and provincial governments about recreating the conditions that create good jobs. We’re talking about raising the minimum wage and paid time off to take care of ourselves and more time to spend with the people who matter most. We’re talking about decent work hours and better legal protection for all workers.

That’s why Canada’s unions have joined the “FightFor$15” campaign here in the capital region to increase our minimum wage. We know that good jobs paying decent wages deliver better futures. It’s at the heart of what unions have always done. Better jobs, safer workplaces and better lives for all Canadians. Victories like this are what make me proud to be a trade unionist. Helping a worker secure time off to care for her father. Convincing an employer to invest in safer workplaces. Supporting change in our community.

This is why the Victoria Labour Council works closely with the United Way of Greater Victoria to foster change in our community. The United Way has a strong and long-standing partnership with organized labour. Both nationally and locally, United Way and organized labour share a common vision of an inclusive community with a wide range of social and public services that are accessible for everyone. Many of the caring, committed people who support United Way are union members. Labour representatives volunteer on United Way’s Board, Campaign Cabinet and Labour Committee; as Loaned Representatives on workplace campaigns and as Labour Community Advocates.

This year I am proud to co-chair the United Way Community Campaign along with Bruce Williams from CTV Vancouver Island. The Victoria Labour Council will once more be a sponsor of the United Way Community campaign Kick-Off Fill the House on September 14th at Mayfair Shopping Centre.

Good jobs offer the better futures that people want for themselves and their families. It’s fair and simple to request, but it’s yet another uphill struggle that Canada’s unions are ready to help push forward.

The same can be said for unions’ call on the federal government to formally and finally ban asbestos. In Canada, 2,000 people die each year from diseases caused by asbestos exposure. It is the leading cause of workplace-related death. Yet, imports of asbestos products, from construction materials to brake pads, are on the rise and buildings contaminated with asbestos remain unregistered, keeping the people who use them and work in them at risk. A comprehensive ban will save lives and prevent the pain, suffering and heartache endured by too many today.

Good jobs, safe workplaces, fairness and equality are the basic ingredients of a better future. These are the things that union leaders like me believe in and work for every day. For us, it truly is a labour of love and it’s what motivates us to march in the streets and celebrate in the parks, playgrounds and community spaces across Canada this weekend.

Happy Labour Day Canada!